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The Portable Carl Van Doren 

Mutiny in January 

Secret History of the American Revolution 


Three Worlds 



Swift Thomas Love Peacock 
Jam^s jSftanch Cabell * Sinclair Lewis 


Other Provinces • The Ninth Wave 


The American Novel • Contemporary American Novelists 
The Roving Critic • Many Minds 
American and British Literature Since iBgo 
(with Mark Van Boren) 

^What Is American Literature? 

Benjamin FrankUn^s Autobiographical Writings 
The Cambridge History of American Literature 
Modern American Prose * An Anthology of World Prose 


New York : The Viking Press ; Mcmlxi 



Published in Canada by The Macmillan Company of 
Canada Limited, Toronto, October 1938. 




T his is a long book. It could twice as easily have been three times 
as long. From Franklin’s beginnings as a journalist at sixteen to 
his retirement from public affairs at eighty-two there was no break in 
his activity, and he was — and is — unsurpassed by any man in the range 
of his natural gifts and of the important uses he put them to. Many 
volumes have been written on many periods and phases of his career, 
and countless special studies. Yet not for three-quarters of a century 
has a biographer undertaken to bring the whole of Franklin’s life, 
with all the precise details essential to it, into a single narrative large 
enough to do it justice. Thanks to later research it is now possible to 
correct and verify the earlier record at frequent points. But it is also 
difficult, with the new facts at hand, not to let it run beyond a readable 
length. This book, full as it is, is a biography cut with hard labour 
to the bone. 

Franklin, the most widely read of auto biographers, is best known 
from his Autobiography y and therefore too little known. For in that 
masterpiece of memory and honesty he dealt with his years as a rising 
tradesman and did not reach his more memorable years as imperial 
prophet, revolutionary statesman, cosmopolitan diplomatist, scientist, 
wit, moralist, sage. He never found time to carry out the history of 
himself which he intended. But the materials which he would have 
used still exist, scattered in journals, letters, and miscellaneous writings 
through his manuscripts and his collected and uncollected works. Here 
at last they have been drawn together and arranged in something like 
the order he might have given them. Nor are they mere raw notes for 
a book. He seldom wrote a line without some characteristic touch of 
wit or grace. Most of these materials need no rewriting to make them 
match the unfinished story they continue. In effect, Franklin’s auto- 
biography is here completed on his own scale and in his own words. 

The completed autobiography, with indispensable passages from 
the actual Autobiography, is what may be called the speaking voice 
in a new history of Franklin, seen not only as he saw himself but also 
as he may now be seen in the light of facts he did not tell or sometimes 
even know. Here first in any Franklin biography appear (in part) his 
Elegy, recently discovered and apparently his earliest writing that has 
survived; information about James Franklin’s New England Courant 
based on the file kept, almost certainly, by Benjamin Franklin; an 
analysis of the hundreds of sayings of Poor Richard which Franklin 
left out of The Way to Wealth, thereby much narrowing his reputa- 



tion as a maker and sharpener of adages; various details of his busi- 
ness, domestic life, and personal expenditures taken from manuscript 
account books and advertisements in the Pennsylvania Gazette; a more 
exact discussion than has hitherto been printed of his surreptitious 
writings and of his Reflections on Courtship and Marriage; a critical 
examination of the kite-flying episode; the narrative of Franklin's first 
diplomatic mission, to the chiefs of the Ohio Indians at Carlisle; the 
lifelong story of his affectionate friendship with Catherine Ray, with 
unpublished letters from her; his campaign as a soldier, known in full 
only to the readers of a single recent monograph; his record in Penn- 
sylvania politics as shown in the executive and legislative journals of 
the province; the insurance company's description of his house in 
Philadelphia; an unpublished manuscript in which he outlined his 
programme of opposition to the Stamp Act; a note on his meeting with 
Baron Miinchhausen and Raspe his chronicler; a circumstantial ac- 
count of the Grand Ohio Company from which Franklin hoped to 
make a fortune in land speculation; his acquaintance with James 
Boswell; two fables by Franklin published in 1770 but lost sight of 
till 1936; a comparison of the two versions of Wedderburn's attack on 
Franklin, one as printed by the British government and one as remem- 
bered by Franklin's friends; the neglected record of his activities as 
chairman of the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety; an unpublished 
letter to General Schuyler written during the mission to Canada, an 
accurate report of the conference with Lord Howe given directly from 
the minutes; the amazing melodrama of the British spies who sur- 
rounded Franklin in Paris; new translations of three of his Passy 
bagatelles, written by him, so far as is known, only in French; several 
of the long-lost stories he was accustomed to tell his friends in France, 
some of them later retold in his Autobiography; details of his adminis- 
tration as President of Pennsylvania; notes on his account with the 
Bank of North America; proof that he could not have gone to Lan- 
caster in June 1787; a minute record of his acts and opinions in the 
Constitutional Convention; and accounts of the second century of his 
famous bequests to Boston and Philadelphia. 

Grateful acknowledgments are hereby made to the American Philo- 
sophical Society for permission to consult the Franklin Papers in the 
Society’s Library and to publish, for the first time, certain documents 
and letters by and to Franklin; to the Historical Society of Pennsyl- 
vania for unfailing hospitality and assistance; to the Library of the 
University of Pennsylvania for permission to study its Franklin Papers 
and to reprint Franklin’s Elegy; to the Philadelphia Contributionship 
for information respecting Franklin and the founding of the company; 
to the Pennsylvania Company (custodian of the records of the Bank 
of North America) for transcripts from the Bank’s ledgers; to the Free 
Library of Philadelphia for an opportunity to examine books tempo- 

Preface vii 

rarily on exhibition there; to the National Archives at Washington for 
photographs of Franklin’s signatures to the treaty of alliance with 
France and the treaty of peace with England; to the Cornell University 
Library for furnishing a photostatic copy of a manuscript of Franklin’s 
last speech and permitting the use or reproduction of it; to the Yale 
University Library for special privileges with regard to the Mason- 
Franklin collection (now being catalogued and not generally acces- 
sible); to the John Carter Brown Library for permission to read the 
letters of Franklin to Catherine Ray; to the Frick Art Reference 
Library for assistance in the matter of Franklin portraits; to the 
Massachusetts Historical Society for courteous favours during a visit 
there; and to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Metro- 
politan Museum of Art, the New York Public Library, and the Fogg Art 
Museum of Harvard University for permission, elsewhere specifically 
acknowledged, to reproduce portraits of Franklin. Particular acknowF 
edgments are due to Mrs. Charles Iselin for permission to examine 
and use the Passy-Chaillot correspondence between John Jay and his 
wife; to Dr. A. S. W. Rosenbach for permission to read Franklin’s un- 
published letters to Madame Brillon; and to Lt.-Colonel Ralph H. 
Isham for permission to quote from the Private Papers of James 

The final writing of the book called for almost daily use of the New 
York Public Library over a period of two years. It would be difiicult 
to describe the expert interest and friendly patience of the members of 
the staff, no matter what burdens were laid upon them. It would be 
impossible to express in full the gratitude here imperfectly recorded. 

The book could not have been written if, in the past twenty years or 
so, special students of Franklin had not continually added to what has 
become almost a Franklin science. Many of the facts now first brought 
into a narrative biography have already appeared in monographs and 
in articles in learned journals. Acknowledgments are made to all of 
these in the General Bibliography and Chapter References at the end 
of the volume. And at least the names must be gratefully given of at 
least a few of the friends, acquaintances, and strangers who have shared 
their knowledge or sources of knowledge with invariable generosity: 
Carl Becker, Julian P. Boyd, M. V. Brewington, Verner W. Crane, 
George Simpson Eddy, Andrew Keogh, Otto Kinkeldey, F. R. Kirk- 
land, Bernhard Knollenberg, H. M. Lydenberg, Ethelwyn Manning, 
Dumas Malone, Frank Monaghan, S. E. Morison, J. Bennett Nolan, 
Morris Sadow, J. Somers Smith, Berthold A. Sorby, C. Seymour 
Thompson, Edith May Tilley, Lawrence C. Wroth. 

This biography goes into detail because Franklin led a detailed life 
which in a general narrative loses colour and savour. But the chief aim 
of the book has been to restore to Franklin, so often remembered 
piecemeal in this or that of his diverse aspects, his magnificent central 



unity as a great and wise man moving through great and troubling 
events. No effort has been made to cut his nature to fit any simple 
scheme of what a good man ought to be. Here, as truly as it has been 
possible to find out, is what Franklin did, said, thought, and felt. 
Perhaps these things may help to rescue him from the dry, prim 
people who have claimed him as one of them. They praise his thrift. 
But he himself admitted that he could never learn frugality, and he 
practised it no longer than his poverty forced him to. They praise his 
prudence. But at seventy he became a leader of a revolution, and 
throughout his life he ran bold risks. They praise him for being a 
plain man. Hardly another man of affairs has ever been more devoted 
than Franklin to the pleasant graces. The dry, prim people seem to 
regard him as a treasure shut up in a savings bank to which they have 
the lawful key. I herewith give him back, in his grand dimensions, to 
his nation and the world. 

The letter to Jared Eliot quoted on pages i '77-78 has, since the 
publication of the original edition of this book, been shown to be 
not from Franklin but from Charles Read. Franklin had no such 
farm and made no such experiments as are discussed in that letter. 

a V. D. 

The two dialogues between Philocles and Horatio which are quoted 
and discussed on pages 83-87 have recently been proved not to have 
been written by Franklin, but taken from the London Journal^ 1729. 

—Publisher's note to the eleventh printing. 





Josiah Franklin in England and New England. Abiah Folger 
Franklin. Birth of Benjamin Franklin. His cheerful childhood. 
Conflict of verse and prose. Franklin's ballads. Franklin's 
schooling. The victory of prose. 


Benjamin Franklin apprenticed to James Franklin. Self-educa- 
tion of a writer. First experiments: the swimmer and his kite. 
Jfew England Courant. Boston wits. Franklin appears in 
prose. Silence Dogood. Franklin's parody and Franklin's 
Elegy. The Courant and the authorities. Apprentice as pub- 
lisher. Runaway apprentice. 



To New York and Philadelphia. Samuel Keimer's journey- 
man. Governor Keith, patron. Visit to Boston. End of a 
friendship. Beginning of a Courtship: Deborah Read. Franklin 
among poets. First voyage to London. Franklin's first book. 
The abstemious printer. First American athlete. Voyage home 
and Franklin's journal. 


Resolutions. Keimer's foreman. First letter-founder in Amer- 
ica. First copperplate press. Franklin and Meredith at the 
New Printing-Office. Franklin's parallel lives. Organization 
of the Junto. United Party for Virtue. Franklin's private 
ritual. Arguments for self-denial and altruism. Perfection by 
statistics. Franklin's illegitimate son William. Franklin's 
reasonable marriage to Deborah Read. Rival printers. The 
Busy-Body. Pennsylvania Gazette, Printer to the province. 
The complete tradesman. Franklin on paper money. Franklin 



as publisher of books. Franklin as bookseller. First permanent 
subscription library in America: the Library Company. Poor 
Richard, Neglected maxims. Franklin learns to read French, 

Italian, Spanish, Latin. Interlocking friendship and business. 

South Carolina Gazette, Philadelphische Zeitung: first foreign- 
language newspaper in America. Printer for New Jersey, Del- 
aware, Maryland, Postmaster of Philadelphia. Franklin plans 
the first American magazine. Race between the American 
Magazine and the General Magazine, Franklin loses by three 
days. Franklin's principal partners. James Parker, ihfew Tork 
Gazette, Nephews as partners. David Hall. Franklin and Hall. 
Franklin's humorous epitaph. 


Private life. Children: Francis Folger and Sarah. Death of 
Francis. Domestic facts from public advertisements. Franklin's 
shop and goods Indentured servants. Slaves. First fire com- 
pany in Philadelphia. The city watch. Franklin and the 
churches. Franklin and the Freemasons. Manslaughter and 
scandal. George Whitefield. Franklin founds the American 
Philosophical Society. Franklin invents the Franklin stove. 
Franklm introduces the yellow willow to America. Magic 
squares. Franklin's drinking songs. Franklin's surreptitious 
writings. Franklin encounters electricity. 


A houseful of experiments. First fundamental contributions 
to the new science. Franklin retires from business. First 
electric battery. Franklin proposes an experiment to prove 
the identity of electricity and lightning. Franklin suggests 
the lightning rod. His proposed experiment carried out in 
France. Franklin flies his famous kite. The legend and the 
mystery. International renown. Elected to the Royal Society. 
Philadelphia Prometheus and American Adam. Other scientific 
interests. First step towards a weather bureau. Ants and pi- 
geons. Franklin's farm and farming. Light waves. First flex- 
ible catheter in America. Whirlwind in Maryland 


FraiuHin organizes a volunteer militia. Franklin is appointed 
and elected to public offices- His income. Franklin proposes 
md promotes the Academy, later the University of Pennsyl- 
'vania. The Pennsylvania Hospital: the first in America. First 



American fire insurance company. First American Arctic ex-- 
pedition. Franklin, clerk of the Assembly, becomes a member. 
Rattle-snakes for convicts. Paper money, proprietors, and 
Indians. Franklin’s first diplomatic mission. Ceremony in the 


Deputy Postmaster-General of North America. Franklin es- 
tablishes local mail delivery and the Dead Letter Office. Frank- 
lin anticipates Malthus and formulates the theory of the 
frontier. First American cartoon. Franklin at the Albany Con- 
gress. Adoption of his Plan of Union for the colonies. Rejec- 
tion of the Plan. Franklin’s conception of the British Empire. 
Revolutionary arguments twenty years before the Revolution. 

The French and Indian war. Franklin and Braddock. A week 
or so of leisure. Deborah Franklm’s grievances. Braddock’s 
defeat and Franklin’s danger. 


Catherine Ray of Rhode Island. Franklin meets her on his way 
from Boston to Philadelphia. Her indiscreet letters. His affec- 
tionate answers. Wiser than Swift, less wild than Vanessa. 

Later meetings of Catherine and Franklin. Thirty-five years 
of friendship. 

10 SOLDIER 243 

Franklin mediates between Assembly and governor. Frank- 
lin’s militia bill. Member of the committee for the defense of 
the province. General Franklin takes charge of the frontier. 
Fortifying towns. Building stockades. Fort Franklin. Philos- 
opher in camp. Jealous governor and proprietors. Further 
conflict between the Assembly and the governor. The Assem- 
bly chooses Franklin to go as their agent to London. 


Portraits of a successful man. The quintessence of colonial 
America. Delays in New York. Voyage in wartime. Poor 
Richard misrepresented in The Way to Wealth. 


12 AGENT 271 

First friends in London: Peter CoUinson, William Strahan, 

John Fothergill. Lodgings in Craven Street. Franklin and the 


Penns. Franklin's illness. Presents for Philadelphia. Philo- 
sophic leisure. Cambridge. English Franklins. Tour m Scot- 
land. Edinburgh scholars. Franklin made Dr. Franklin by the 
University of St. Andrews. Lord Karnes. Propaganda against 
the proprietors. Temporary settlement with them. Canada 
and Franklin's Canada pamphlet. The Craven Street house- 
hold. William Franklm's illegitimate son Temple. Visit to 
Holland and Belgium. Franklin's hoaxes. Varied philosophic 
interests. Scientific letters to Polly Stevenson. Franklin 
evolves the armonica. Oxford degrees to Franklin and his 
son. William Franklin made governor of New Jersey. Frank- 
lin returns to America. 


Postal matters: Virginia to New Hampshire. Franklin and his 
daughter in New England. The Indian war called the con- 
spiracy of Pontiac. Conflict between Philadelphia and the back 
counties. Massacre of the Conestoga Indians. Franklin's 
pamphlet. The frontier invades the capital. The governor 
takes refuge in Franklin's house, and Franklin quiets the 
rioters. Governor Penn hates Franklin more than ever. Frank- 
lin on the new colonial policy of the British government. 
Pennsylvania petitions the king to make it a royal province. 
Franklin drafts the petition, and signs it as Speaker of the 
Assembly. Franklin beaten in an uproarious election. Franklin 
builds a house. Again to England with the petition. 


The petition submerged in the agitation over the Stamp Act 
Opposition and passage. Further Franklin hoaxes. Franklin's 
original contribution to musical theory. Tumult over the 
Stamp Act in America. Franklin blamed. His wife and house 
threatened. Franklin chief spokesman for British-American 
propaganda in favor of repeal. Unprecedented debate in Par- 
liament. Franklin before the House of Commons. Hero in his 
own historical comedy. The Stamp Act repealed. Franklin 
sees the repeal as patchwork legislation. 


Franklin tells Joseph Priestley about the electrical kite. Frank- 
lin and John Pringle to Hanover. Baron Munchhausen. The 
Royal Society of Sciences at GSttmgen. Franklin's English 


cousin Sally Franklin and his grandson Temple in Craven 
Street. Troubles about money. His daughter's marriage to 
Richard Bache in Philadelphia. Colony agent for Georgia, 

New Jersey, Massachusetts, as well as Pennsylvania. The 
Townshend acts. Franklin on a consolidating union. On deal- 
ings with the Indians. Plans for land speculation in Illinois. 

First visit to France. Franklin observes French fashions, ad- 
mires French manners, and is presented to Louis XV and his 
family. French scientists. French economists. Precipitation of 
economic doctrines. Franklin develops his conception of the 
British Empire in relation to the colonies. The ministry thinks 
of making him an under-secretary of state for America. Ships 
and soldiers sent to quiet Boston. Franklin and Hillsborough. 
Franklin forecasts rebellion. To Ireland, and to Scotland again. 

David Hume. Franklin's advice to his daughter and her hus- 
band. Another scheme for land speculation: the Grand Ohio 
Company. The Vandalia colony. Hillsborough out of office. 
Franklin elected to the French Academy of Sciences. 


Franklin and James Boswell. New portraits of Franklin. The 
Craven Street household. Franklin's morning nudism and 
other daily habits. Pioneer in ventilation. Franklin and Polly 
Stevenson. Franklin's so-called daughter, Judith Foxcroft, not 
his daughter. To another house in Craven Street. Franklin and 
Bishop Shipley. The Shipley family at Twyford. Franklin 
there begins his Autobiography. Synopsis of Franklin's travels. 
Another hoax at Lord Shelburne's. Dinner with the king of 
Denmark. Franklin at the Royal Society. The Honest Whigs 
his favorite club. His ranging curiosity. Observations on mas- 
todons, lead poisoning, the advantages of deeper water in 
canals. Pioneer in spelling reform. His works collected. Frank- 
lin studies the Gulf Stream before any other scientist. Franklin 
introduces medicinal rhubarb, kohlrabi, and Scotch cabbage to 
America. Member of a Royal Society committee on lightning 
rods. Franklin's collected works in French. Franklin's notes on 
common colds. Franklin's experiments on the effects of oil on 
rough water. 


Franklin and Lord Le Despencer. Revision of the Prayer Book. 
American jokes. Two fables. Growing ministerial animosity 



towards Franklin. Franklin and Lord Dartmouth. Franklin 
sends the Oliver-Hutchinson letters to Boston. Franklin's 
motives and moderation. Outburst in Massachusetts. Franklin 
at last suspects George III of originating the measures taken 
against the colonies. Franklin satirizes and ridicules both min- 
istry and king. The Boston Tea Party. The William Whately- 
John Temple duel in London. Franklin admits he sent the 
letters. Temple's later claims. The ministry turns on Franklin. 

First hearing before the Privy Council. Suit in chancery. Sec- 
ond hearing before the Privy Council. Alexander Wedder- 
burn, solicitor-general, abuses Franklin. Wedderburn's speech. 
Franklin's silence. Dismissed from the post office. His mild 


Experiments and friendships. Arthur Lee becomes an enemy. 
Punitive acts against Boston for the destruction of the tea. The 
First Continental Congress. Franklin waits in London. Frank- 
lin and Chatham. Franklin's symbolical cartoon. Franklin's 
speech for the king. Fothergill and David Barclay approach 
Franklin. Dartmouth and Hyde. Negotiations by stealth. 
Franklin, Miss Howe, chess, and Lord Howe. Franklin's hints 
for conciliation. Deborah Franklin dies in Philadelphia. Frank- 
lin and Chatham again. The ministers think Franklin's terms 
too hard. Polite attempts to bribe him. Chatham at Craven 
Street. Franklin with Chatham at the House of Lords. Frank- 
lin engages to pay for the destroyed tea. His conditions un- 
acceptable to the ministers. End of the negotiations. End of 
Franklin's patience. Final days in England. Returning to 
America with his grandson, Franklin again studies the Gulf 
Stream. Delegate to the Second Continental Congress. 



Oldest of the revolutionists. Franklin's son a loyalist. Frank- 
lin's silence in Congress. Organizer of the American post 
office. Chairman of the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety. 

Pikes, chevaux-de-frise, bows and arrows, row-galleys. Con- 
gressional committees. Franklin's proposed articles of confed- 
eration. To Cambridge to confer with Washington. Catherine 
Ray again. Franklin elected to the Pennsylvania Assembly. 



French emissary in Philadelphia. Franklin's famous letter to 
Strahan, The mission to Canada. Franklin and Thomas Paine. 
Franklin on the committee to draft the Declaration of Inde- 
pendence. Franklin's few changes in Jefferson's text. Franklin's 
story, Franklin's joke. Franldin and the new constitution of 
Pennsylvania. Correspondence with Lord Howe. Conference 
on Staten Island. Franklin sails for France. Auray, Nantes, 
and Paris. 


The policy of Vergennes. The comedy of Beaumarchais. 
Franklin's colleagues: Silas Deane and Arthur Lee. Franklin's 
enormous vogue in France. Retreat to Passy. Conflict with 
the British ambassador to France. Storm of French applicants 
for the American army. Lafayette. Steuben. The melodrama 
of the British spies surrounding Franklin. Franklin's disre- 
gard of them. Trouble with Arthur Lee. Capture of Philadel- 
phia. Surrender of Burgoyne. The master spy calls on Frank- 
lin. Franco-American treaty of alliance and commerce. The 
commissioners received by the king. Deane recalled. More 
trouble with Arthur Lee. John Adams in place of Deane. Ex- 
change of prisoners. Fantastic Charles de Weissenstein. 
Franklin and Voltaire. Turgot's Latin epigram on Franklin. 


Franklin sole minister to France. America's place in the Euro- 
pean situation. Franklin as United States consul-general, 
director of naval affairs in Europe, and judge of admiralty. 

John Paul Jones and the Bonhomme Richard, named for Poor 
Richard. Privateers. Franklin as American treasurer in Eu- 
rope. Drafts on him. Franklin asks to be recalled but is not. 
Commissioner to negotiate peace with Great Britain, Story of 
the harrow. Franklin's correspondence with Edmund Burke. 
Surrender of Cornwallis. North's resignation. 


French portraits of Franklin. Franklin's health in France. 

Gout and stone. The household at Passy. Franklin invents bi- 
focal glasses. Passy neighbours. French ladies. Arcadian cere- 
monies. Madame Brillon. Their Wednesdays and Saturdays. 

Plans for paradise. Franklin's French. Gallantry with friend- 
ship. Franklin proposes his grandson Temple as husband to 
Madame Brillon's daughter. Temple Franklin's illegitimate 



son by Madame Caillot. Bagatelles for Madame Brillon. Ma- 
dame Helvetius at Auteuil. Abigail Adams is shocked. Break- 
fast at Madame Helvdtms's house. Stories Franklm told his 
French friends. Bagatelles for Madame Helvetius. Franklin 
proposes marriage to her. Franklin and women generally. 
Franklin and the great. Franklin and the Freemasons in 
France. Franklin and the constitutionalists. His little leisure 
for science. His works in German and Italian. Membership in 
learned societies. Franklin's private press at Passy. Qa ira. 


Vergennes the impresario of the war. Conflict of interests 
between Spain and the United States. Imperial mediators. 
Shelburne opens with Franklin the first discussions of peace. 
Franklin's journal. Richard Oswald comes to Paris. Franklin 
suggests the cession of Canada. Franklin's fiction about 
British atrocities. Thomas Grenville comes to treat for Eng- 
land with France. Delays and confusion in the British ministry. 

John Jay arrives in Paris from Madrid. Franklin first outlines 
the American terms of peace. Jay's suspicions of Spain and 
France. Vergennes's position. Franklin's illness. Jay's terms. 

Adams arrives from Holland. The final negotiations without 
consultation with Vergennes. Franklin on fisheries and loyal- 
ists. The treaty signed in violation of instructions from Con- 
gress. Franklin informs Vergennes. Two masters cross swords. 
Franklin gets another loan from France. Independence from 
England, and from Europe. 


Paris's first balloon ascension. Franklin sees the first ascent of 
human passengers. Franklin receives the first letter carried 
through the air. Franklin signs, with Sweden, the first treaty 
made by the United States after independence. Franklin's plan 
for transatlantic mail packets adopted by France and England. 
Post-war writings about America. The Society of the Cincin- 
nati. Franklin and Mirabeau. Franklin on luxury, property, 
criminal law, war, and privateering. Treaty with Prussia. The 
royal commission for the investigation of mesmerism. Experi- 
ments at Passy. Further international honours. Franklin and 
his son. Franklin and Jefferson. Farewell to Passy. Visit to 
England, and farewell. Scientific writings on Franklin's last 
voyage to America. 





Acclamation in Pennsylvania. Franklin elected president. The 
test act revised. The pleasures of Philadelphia. The penal 
code amended The bank charter restored. Franklin builds 
houses. The fiction of the journey to Lancaster. The state of 
Franklin (later Tennessee). Franklin in the Constitutional 
Convention. The Great Compromise. Up Franklin Court. 
Franklin's last speech. The Wyoming settlers. Benjamin 
Franklin and John Frankim. Retirement. Franklin dreams of 

26 ENDING 761 

Franklin's will. The Franklin Funds in Boston and Philadel- 
phia. Disappointment from Congress. Franklin tries to com- 
plete his Autobiography Franklinia alatamaha. Franklin under- 
values the steamboat. Last writings. Talks with Benjamin 
Rush, Franklin's better conversations in his correspondence. 
Franklin first suggests crop insurance. On the French Revolu- 
tion. Franklin's last hoax. A letter on religion Jefferson calls 
on Franklin. A philosopher's death. The funeral of a universal 
hero. Mourning and eulogies in two worlds. A man, a multi- 









A portrait by Robert Feke (?) or John Greenwood (?) painted 
probably about 1748 and reproduced with the permission of 
the Fogg Art Museum of Harvard University 

FRANKLIN IN LONDON Preceding page 271 

A portrait painted by David Martin in London in 1767 and 
reproduced with the permission of the Pennsylvania Academy 
of the Fme Arts 

FRANKLIN IN PARIS Preceding page 527 

A portrait painted in France by Joseph-Sifrede Duplessis in 
1783 and reproduced with the permission of the New York 
Public Library 

Father and Son 

F amilies break up when poor men emigrate. In January 
1744 Josiah Franklin of Boston in New England wrote an 
inquiring letter across the Atlantic to a Captain Franklin in 
Oxfordshire. ‘'By what intelligence I have received from my son at 
Philadelphia, and what intelligence I have had by a gentleman that 
comes pretty often to dinner here, I am pretty much inclined to 
believe that you are my brother’s grandson that I lived with eleven 
years. I know of no advantage, neither do I propose any, to myself 
or you, by scraping acquaintance with you; but as father’s children, 
seemed to have more than common affection one for another, and 
I having the same affection as formerly, I shall rejoice to hear of 
the welfare of my brother’s family, and I hope it will not be un- 
grateful to you, if we are related, to favour me with a few lines as 
opportunity presents. 

“My brother John lived in Banbury, in Oxfordshire, and pur- 
chased a house by the mill,” the letter went on. John Franklin had 
also inherited their father’s freehold at Ecton in Northampton- 
shire, Josiah Franklin mistakenly thought. “Now I uixderstand by 
the gentleman above mentioned that you sold land to the value of 
£500 sterling, which I suppose is about the value of what my father 
was possessed of. ... I understand you also practise surveying, 
which my brother practised also, so that his instruments for art 
might fall to your portion also. Thus, sir, I have given you my con- 
jecture, and if you’ll send me an answer I shall count myself obliged 
to you.” 

“It’s so long since I came away,” the New England Franklin 
explained in a postscript, “that I have lost the knowledge of all our 
relations, having been in Boston sixty years last October. Whoever 
it be, I cannot expect to hold correspondence with you but a short 

4 ? Benjamin Franklin boston 

time, being this New Year’s day eighty-six years o£ age; but I have 
three sons which it’s possible may be glad of the same friendship 
I may desire, and I believe would be glad if they can do you any 
service. They are John Franklin, tallow-chandler at Boston; Peet 
Franklin, at Newport, master of a vessel; and Benja. Franklin, at 
Philadelphia,” where, as Captain Franklin knew, this son was post- 

Though Josiah Franklin might have the same affection as 
formerly, he had long outlived his brothers and was far removed 
from his English kin. For two centuries or more there had been 
Franklins at Ecton, where they had a farm of thirty acres and a 
forge, and where eldest son after eldest son had been a blacksmith. 
The next to the last of the line had had four sons: Thomas, John, 
Benjamin, and Josiah. Thomas was blacksmith and more: “a con- 
veyancer, something of a lawyer, clerk of the county courts and 
clerk to the archdeacon in his visitations; a very leading man in all 
county affairs, and much employed in public business. He set on 
foot a subscription for erecting chimes in their steeple, and com- 
pleted it. . . . He found out an easy method of saving their village 
meadows from being drowned. . . . His advice and counsel were 
sought for on all occasions, by all sorts of people.”^ The earliest 
Franklin to rise from village obscurity, more prosperous than any 
of their name had been before him, he seems a kind of first draft 
of the great Franklin. John Franklin, the second brother, left Ecton 
for Banbury, where he became a dyer, and where the brothers 
Benjamin and Josiah learned his trade. That ‘'more than common 
affection” could not hold these Franklins together. The two elder 
adhered to the Church of England, the two younger turned to 
nonconformity. And now there was a New England which, espe- 
cially to younger sons, held out better prospects than the Old. The 
Ecton clan dissolved when first Josiah and, much later, Benjamin 
crossed the Atlantic to Boston. 

Benjamin Franklin knew the exact year neither of his father’s 
birth nor of his arrival in America. Josiah Franklin’s letter,^ neg- 
lected by his son’s biographers, fixes the first date at 1658 (January) 
and the second at 1683 (October). Married very young to an Anne 
whose surname is not known, Josiah was the father of a daughter 
when he was barely twenty, and had a son and another daughter 



Josiah Franklin 

when, not yet twenty-six, he put Ecton and Banbury behind him. 
Perfectly obscure in England, he would have been almost as ob- 
scure in New England if he had not had a famous son. Of all the 
records of his life that have come to light, the most numerous 
concern the births and baptisms of his children. After Elizabeth, 
Samuel, and Hannah, born in Banbury, came four more born in 
Boston: Josiah, Anne, Joseph, who lived five days in 1688, and 
another Joseph, born June 1689 and dead in fifteen days. Anne 
Franklin, three years older than her husband but still only thirty- 
four, died of her seventh child. The widower before the end of the 
year married Abiah Folger, twenty-two, daughter of Peter Folger 
of Nantucket Josiah Franklin’s American wife had ten children: 
John, Peter, Mary, James, Sarah, Ebenezer, Thomas, Benjamin, 
Lydia, and Jane. As Jane was a whole generation younger than 
Elizabeth, the first of these sons and daughters had grown up and 
gone away before the last were born, but Benjamin could re- 
member thirteen sitting at his father’s table at one time. 

Although artisans and tradesmen left few records in that age, 
traces of Josiah Franklin appear in the documents of Boston. In 
1685 he “owned the covenant”^ at the Old South Church, which 
means that he had applied for membership* In 1691 he was occupy- 
ing, as tenant, a small house in Milk Street directly opposite the 
church,^ and in 1692 he was given permission to build what was 
possibly a shop, eight feet square, on the same lot.^ In 1694 he was 
admitted to communion at the Old South, along with his wife 
Abiah* He had served the stem probation of nine years and was a 
church member, as not more than one man out of four or five in 
Boston then was* In February 1703, Samuel Sewall’s diary notes, 
Ebenezer Franklin, sixteen months old, “was drowned in a tub of 
suds.”^ In September 1708 Sewall went to a Thursday evening 
prayer meeting at Josiah Franklin’s house. “ ’Tis the first time of 
meeting at his house since he joined.’”^ In 1709 Josiah Franklin 
supplied the town of Boston with candles for the watch, enough 
to cost a pound.® In January 1712, the house in Milk Street having 
been sold, Josiah Franklin bought, for £320, a house at the comer 
of Union and Hanover Streets, where he lived the rest of his life, 
finally, it appears from his will, in two rooms*® In 1713 he was host 
to another prayer meeting, presumably in his new house.^® In 

6 Benjamin Franklin boston 

February 1718 Samuel Sewall one Sunday “set York Tune” in 
church and the congregation “went out of it into St. David’s.” 
Sewall, who had been precentor at the Old South for twenty-four 
years, felt that he ought to give up his office to some more accurate 
singer. He told the minister that “Mr. White or Franklin might 
do it very well. The return of the gallery where Mr. Franklin sat 
was a place very convenient for it.”^^ In April of that year, when 
two deacons were chosen, Josiah Franklin got ten votes, but two 
other men got more.^^ 

Here are most of the known facts of Josiah Franklin’s plain life. 
“He had an excellent constitution of body,” his son wrote, “was 
of middle stature, but well set, and very strong; he was ingenious, 
could draw prettily, was skilled a little in music, and had a clear, 
pleasing voice, so that when he played psalm tunes on his violin 
and sung withal, as he sometimes did in an evening after the busi- 
ness of the day was over, it was extremely agreeable to hear. He had 
a mechanical genius too, and, on occasion, was very handy in the 
use of other tradesmen’s tools; but his great excellence lay in a 
sound understanding and solid judgment in prudential matters, 
both in private and public affairs. In the latter, indeed, he was 
never employed, the numerous family he had to educate and the 
straitness of his circumstances keeping him close to his trade; but 
I remember well his being frequently visited by leading people, 
who consulted him for his opinion in affairs of the town or of the 
church he belonged to, and showed a good deal of respect for his 
judgment and advice; he was also much consulted by private per- 
sons about their affairs when any difficulty occurred, and frequently 
chosen an arbitrator between contending parties. At his table he 
liked to have, as often as he could, some sensible friend or neigh- 
bour to converse with, and always took care to start some ingenious 
or useful topic for discourse, which might tend to improve the 
minds of his children.”^^ After his death his son told Peter Kalm 
of an experiment that Josiah Franklin had made. Living between 
two rivers, one with herring and one without, he caught spawn in 
one and carried it to the other. “It was hatched, and thereafter 
herring spawned there.”^"^ 

Josiah Franklin was nearly fifty when his youngest son was born, 
and Benjamin, after he ran away from Boston to Philadelphia at 


Franklin's Birth 


seventeen, saw his father only three times. The father the son 
remembered was a busy maker and seller of soap and candles, 
seasoned and shrewd, orthodox but not too devout, cheerful among 
his houseful of children who with his trade and his church made 
up his existence. Most of the troubling events of his life were past. 
The wrench at leaving Ecton and Banbury, and the uncomfortable 
voyage. The anxiety at finding in Boston, with its five or six thou- 
sand people strictly ruled by ministers, magistrates, and merchants, 
that he could not make a living at his trade of dyer; and his deci- 
sion to become a tallow-chandler. The deaths of two children and 
his wife within a year and a half. The discovery — by whom in that 
swarming house in Milk Street? — of the drowned child. His son 
Josiah's headstrong going off to sea and the long silence about him. 
Josiah was still at sea when his father bought the new house at 
Union and Hanover Streets and, moving his family there, took 
along with him the sign of the Blue Ball which had hung and now 
again hung before his door. But this was his own house, his last 
child was born soon after he bought it, and his son Benjamin was 
from the first the most promising of all his children. 


Benjamin Franklin was born 6 January (ly January, New Style) 
1706 in the house in Milk Street, and, born on Sunday, was carried 
that day across the winter street to be baptized in the Old South. 
He says, for a man so explicit and graphic about his latex life, little 
about his first ten years. “My mother had likewise an excellent 
constitution; she suckled all her ten children.”^® Hardly another 
word about her, though he was always an affectionate son. She had 
been born in Nantucket, where her father was teacher, surveyor, 
weavei, miller, clerk of the town and court, and interpreter be- 
tween whites and Indians. Her mother, Mary Morrils, had been 
an indentured servant whom Peter Folger had bought for twenty 
pounds and afterwards married. Abiah Franklin, married to a 
young widower with five small children, and with ten more of her 
own, was as much taken up as he with the cares of their family. 
“She was a discreet and virtuous woman,’* her son said on her 

B Ben jamin Franklin boston 

tombstone. Her children and her epitaph and a few misspelled 
letters make up her recorded history. 

Of his brothers and sisters in these early years Franklin says no 
more than appears in a single episode. '‘When I was a child of 
seven years old, my friends, on a holiday, filled my pockets with 
coppers. I went directly to a shop where they sold toys for children; 
and, being charmed with the sound of a whistle that I met by the 
way in the hands of another boy, I voluntarily offered and gave all 
my money for one. I then came home and went whistling all over 
the house, much pleased with my whistle, but disturbing all the 
family. My brothers and sisters and cousins, understanding the 
bargain I had made, told me I had given four times as much for it 
as it was worth; put me in mind what good things I might have 
bought with the rest of the money; and laughed at me so much 
for my folly that I cried with vexation; and the reflection gave me 
more chagrin than the whistle gave me pleasure.''^® If they teased 
him at other times as well, still he cherished no resentments or 
grievances. He was a genius in an ordinary family who was not 
bullied as an ugly duckling. 

He was the special pet of his uncle Benjamin, who all the way 
from London sent his namesake didactic verses on the evils of war 
when the child was four years old and, the father had written to 
the uncle, was excited about soldiers. Benjamin, eight years older 
than his brother Josiah, had gone from Banbury to London and 
had not prospered. His wife had died and nine of his ten children, 
and his son Samuel had left him for New England. The lonely old 
man collected political pamphlets, listened to sermons and took 
them down in a shorthand he had invented, and poured himself 
out in tireless verse, always doggerel. When the nephew was nine 
the uncle came to Boston and lived for three or four years in 
Josiah Franklin's house. The promising boy was watched over by 
two old men. 

The poetry of Benjamin took effect before the prose of Josiah. 
When the boy was seven he wrote some verses to go in a letter of 
his father's to London, and his uncle exulted, in answering verse, 
with hopeful praise. While the uncle was living at the Blue Ball 
the nephew began, in verse, his long life as a writer. He had already 
been apprenticed to his brother James the printer. "I now took a 


Franklin's Ballads 


fancy to poetry, and made some little pieces; my brother, thinking 
it might turn to account, encouraged me and put me on composing 
occasional ballads. One was called The Lighthouse Tragedy and 
contained an account of the drowning of Captain Worthilake, with 
his two daughters; the other was a sailor’s song, on the taking of 
Teach (or Blackbeard) the pirate. They were wretched stuff, in the 
Grub-Street-ballad style; and when they were printed he sent me 
about the town to sell them. The first sold wonderfully, the event 
being recent, having made a great noise.”^'^ 

It was in November 1718. George Worthilake (or Worthylake), 
keeper of the first Boston light, was drowned with his wife and 
daughter (not his two daughters) on their way to town. They were 
“carried all together to the grave, with a very solemn funeral,” and 
Cotton Mather preached. “I entertain the flock,” he said of his 
sermon, “with as pungent and useful a discourse as I can.”^^ Frank- 
lin, who often heard Cotton Mather, may have heard him on this 
day. That same month the pirate Blackbeard was killed off the 
coast of North Carolina, and within a few weeks the news had 
reached Boston, and Benjamin Franklin had run his ballad-making 

The vogue of the ballads, now lost, “flattered my vanity; but my 
father discouraged me by ridiculing my performance, and telling 
me verse-makers were generally beggars. So I escaped being a poet, 
most probably a very bad one.”^^ He escaped being a poet by never 
having been one, and he could take his father’s advice because he 
was his father’s son. Shakespeare and Milton and Dryden had not 
touched the Franklins, There was Peter Folger, who with “decent 
plainness and manly freedom’' had written, “in the home-spun 
verse of that time and people,”^^ against intolerance and persecu- 
tion. There was Uncle Benjamin, kind but a little fantastic, per- 
petually rhyming. There were the “foolish songs and ballads” 
which, Cotton Mather complained, “the hawkers and pedlars 
carry into all parts of the country.” But in all this there was little 
to stir or fix the ambition of so reasonable a boy. Much as Josiah 
Franklin loved his brother Benjamin, he could not set much value 
on that Benjamin’s verses. One poet in a family was enough. Ridi- 
culing his son’s ballads, the prudent tradesman was quietly op^* 
posing his brother’s example. And in the conflict over the young 

10 Benjamin Franklin boston 

Benjamin, between the uncle and the father, the father in the end 
won with prose. 

Such prudence as Josiah Franklin’s was less prosaic than it may 
at first thought appear. It had tones of revolution in it. All those 
Franklins in Ecton, son after father, had gone on hammering at 
the same forge because they had little choice as to how they should 
live. Owning land, entering professions, holding office: these were 
for privileged men. Outside the circles of privilege in England life 
was hard. Unprivileged men made up the bulk of those who came 
to America, looking for security and freedom. In Boston Josiah 
Franklin found gentry and theocracy still in power, though the 
tight experiment was breaking up, becoming more flexible and 
more secular. He accepted his rank as a tradesman and lived in it 
with a firm self-respect. His trade was his security. He taught the 
trade to his sons John and Peter, and he grieved because his son 
Josiah disliked it and went to sea, where he was later lost. If a man 
prospered in a trade, their father thought, he could have a kind of 
freedom too. That is, he could save money, acquire property, and 
live as he liked. '‘Seest thou a man diligent in his calling, he shall 
stand before kings, he shall not stand before mean men.” Even the 
privileged could not easily resist a man with money. If they did, 
he could disregard them. With what he had he could feel himself 
equal to them, and superior to those among them who shabbily 
held on to their rank when they had nothing else. The tide was 
rising against privilege, and Josiah Franklin, mild revolutionary, 
was rising with it. New England was kind to him. His eldest brother 
Thomas, back in Ecton, had had gentlemen and noblemen for 
patrons. Josiah Franklin in Boston, in spite of his huge family, 
with no help but from his trade, yet left a fortune a third as large 
as Thomas’s. And as an old man, with leisure to write to remote 
Franklins to ask if they were related to him, he could with fatherly 
satisfaction speak of his substantial sons. 

But this was when his youngest son was almost forty. Thirty years 
before Josiah Franklin had aimed at a profession for the boy. ‘1 
was put to the grammar school at eight years of age, my father 
intending to devote me, as the tithe of his sons, to the service of 
the Church. My early readiness in learning to read (which must 
have been very early, as I do not remember when I could not read). 



FranktirCs Schooling 

and the opinion of all his friends that I should certainly make 3 
good scholar, encouraged him in this purpose of his. My uncle 
Benjamin, too, approved of it, and proposed to give me all his 
shorthand volumes of sermons, I suppose as a stock to set up with, 
if I would learn his character. I continued, however, at the gram- 
mar school not quite one year, though in that time I had risen 
gradually from the middle of the class of that year to be the nead 
of it, in order to go with chat into the third at the end of the year. 
But my father, in the meantime, from a view of the expense of a 
college education, which, having so large a family, he could not 
well afford, and the mean living many so educated were afterwards 
able to obtain — ^reasons that he gave to his friends in my hearing — 
altered his first intention, took me from the grammar school, and 
sent me to a school for writing and arithmetic kept by a then 
famous man, Mr. George Brownell. ... I acquired fair writing 
pretty soon, but I failed in the arithmetic, and made no progress 
in it. At ten years old I was taken home to assist my father in his 

There are no records of Franklin's schooling except the few 
words he wrote about it. In his will he left a hundred pounds to 
the free schools of Boston, to which, he said, ‘1 . . . owe my first 
instructions in literature," to provide annual silver medals for 
deserving pupils.^^ But he was almost as wholly self-taught as if he 
had never gone to school. Failing in arithmetic under a good 
teacher, he later took it up, during his studious apprenticeship, and 
mastered it. The little Latin he had got in one year at the grammar 
school (now the Boston Latin School) he neglected until, a printer 
in Philadelphia, he had learned to read French, Italian, and 
Spanish, and was surprised to find that they made Latin easy for 
him. He wondered if it was not the natural process. “If you can 
clamber and get to the top of a staircase without using the steps, 
you will more easily gain them in descending; but certainly, if you 
begin with the lowest you will with more ease ascend to the top."^^ 
All Franklin's education was a natural process. The most insatiable 
and acquisitive young mind in America was on the hunt for knowl- 
edge and would have found it in a desert. 

Josiah Franklin was more important than schools in the educa- 
tion of his promising son. For a tradesman a trade was a school. 


19, Benjamin Franklin 

The father for two years was Benjamin’s teacher, as he had been 
John’s and Peter’s, in the family trade. The boy was more restless 
than these brothers. He disliked tallow as much as his brother 
Josiah did, and like him wanted to go to sea: 'living near the water, 
I was much in and about it, learnt early to swim well, and to man- 
age boats; and when in a boat or canoe with other boys, I was 
commonly allowed to govern, especially in any case of difficulty. ”^4 
Fearing the sea, the father, near sixty, looked about for a trade 
which would be more agreeable to the son. “He therefore some- 
times took me to walk with him, and see joiners, bricklayers, 
braziers, etc., at their work, that he might observe my inclination, 
and endeavour to fix it on some trade or other on land. It has ever 
since been a pleasure to me to see good workmen handle their 
tools; and it has been useful to me, having learnt so much by it as 
to be able to do little jobs myself in my house when a workman 
could not readily be got, and to construct little machines for my 
experiments, while the intention of making the experiments was 
fresh and warm in my mind.”^^ For a time the cutler’s trade seemed 
best, and the boy was put in charge of his cousin Samuel, who 
had come from London and established himself in Boston. But 
Samuel, son of the uncle Benjamin, did not have his father’s parti- 
ality and asked a fee which Josiah Franklin thought too high. He 
finally decided, because the boy was fond of books, to make him a 
printer and apprenticed him to his brother James, nine years older, 
who at twenty had learned printing in London and returned to 
Boston with types and press of his own. At last Benjamin Franklin 
had begun his real education. 

In the five years more which the apprentice spent in Boston he 
still had the frequent counsel of his father, and not only as to 
industry, honesty, prudence. His father, discouraging his son from 
verse, gave him good and useful advice about his first prose. “I fell 
far short in elegance of expression, in method and in perspicuity, 
of which he convinced me by several instances. I saw the justice of 
his remarks, and thence grew more attentive to the manner in writ- 
ing.”^® When the brothers quarrelled they consulted their father, 
who usually sided with Benjamin. But Benjamin was James’s ap 
prentice, and the father, for all his care, had yielded most of his 
authority to the elder brother. 

Brother and Brother 

I F THE terms of the apprenticeship were in the form then cus- 
tomary, they said that Benjamin Franklin, twelve years old in 
1718, 'Vith the consent of his parents, doth put himself apprentice 
to his brother,’’ then twenty-one, '‘to learn his art, and with him, 
after the manner of an apprentice, to serve” until he should him- 
self be twenty-one. "During which term the said apprentice his 
master faithfully shall or will serve, his secrets keep, his lawful 
commands everywhere gladly do. He shall do no damage to his said 
master nor see it to be done of others; but to his power shall let, 
or forthwith give notice to his said master of the same. The goods 
of his said master he shall not waste, nor the same without licence 
of him to any give or lend. Hurt to his said master he shall not do, 
cause, nor procure to be done. He shall neither buy nor sell with- 
out his master’s licence. Taverns, inns, or alehouses he shall not 
haunt. At cards, dice, tables, or any other unlawful game he shall 
not play. Matrimony he shall not contract; nor from the service of 
his said master day nor night absent himself; but in all things as an 
honest and faithful apprentice shall and will demean and behave 
himself towards his said master and all his during the said term.” 
James Franklin, acknowledging the receipt of ten pounds, agreed 
that he "the said apprentice in the art of a printer which he now 
useth, shall teach and instruct or cause to be taught and instructed 
the best way and manner that he can, finding and allowing unto 
the said apprentice meat, drink, washing, lodging, and all other 
necessaries during the said term.” In the last year of this apprentice- 
ship Benjamin was to have journeyman s wages. 

Though his strongest hankering was for the sea, he preferred 
ink to tallow if he must stay on land, and he had the instinct to 
make the best of a bargain he could not avoid. With his quick 

14 Benjamin Franklin boston 

mind and accurate hands he was soon skilful at the trade in which 
all his life he took a hearty pride. James Franklin’s business got 
only slowly under way. There were other printers in Boston, and 
a provincial town, however bookish, of ten or twelve thousand 
people did not have too much need of printing. The brothers did 
odd jobs, printing a few pamphlets, the ballads which the younger 
wrote, even linen, calico, or silk “in good figures, very lively and 
durable colours, and without the offensive smell which commonly 
attends the linens printed here.” At the end of 1719 James Franklin 
was engaged to print the Boston Gazette and printed forty numbers 
of it. When it was taken away from him for another printer he 
started a newspaper of his own, the New England Courant, in 
August 1721. 

Benjamin, then fifteen, was already well along in the course of 
that self-education of which his Autobiography gives a classic and 
incomparable account. “From a child I was fond of reading, and 
all the little money that came into my hands was ever laid out in 
books.” Pleased with the Pilgrim's Progress, he bought the rest of 
Bunyan “in separate little volumes,” and sold them to buy forty 
or fifty “chapmen’s books,” said to be by R. Burton — ^nobody 
knows who the author actually was — and called Historical Collec- 
tions though they were random miscellanies of history, travel, 
fiction, science, biography, and wonders of all sorts. The omnivo- 
rous boy read his father's books “of polemic divinity” and later 
felt that his time had been wasted. He “read abundantly” in 
Plutarch’s Lives, and thought that time well spent. He read 
Defoe’s Essay on Projects and Cotton Mather’s Essays to Do Good, 
which both set him thinking.^ Apprenticed to a printer, he had 
access to more and better books. Booksellers’ apprentices would 
lend him their masters’ books to read overnight. Matthew Adams, 
a tradesman who came often to James Franklin’s shop, took an 
interest in Benjamin and gave him the run of a private library. He 
studied arithmetic and navigation, grammar and logic, and read 
Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding and Xenophon’s 
Memorabilia, along with such contemporary free-thinkers as 
Shaftesbury and Collins. 

He read not to pass the time but to get at what he needed, and 

CHAPTER 2 Learning to JFrite 1 5 

while he was reading he was learning to write. ‘Trose writing has 
been of great use to me in the course of my life, and was a princi- 
pal means of my advancement.''^ His writing grew out of his 
arguing with a friend, John Collins, who was more fluent than 
he and could seem to overcome without convincing him. Ben- 
jamin, after one of these debates, wrote down his arguments and 
sent them to his friend. Letters passed between them, and by 
chance fell into Josiah Franklin's critical hands. Benjamin ‘'de- 
termined to endeavour at improvement." 

“About this time I met with an odd volume of the Spectator. 
It was the third. I had never before seen any of them. I bought 
it, read it over and over, and was much delighted with it. I thought 
the writing excellent, and wished, if possible, to imitate it. With 
this view I took some of the papers, and, making short hints of the 
sentiment in each sentence, laid them by a few days, and then, 
without looking at the book, tried to complete the papers again, 
by expressing each hinted sentiment at length, and as fully as it 
had been expressed before, in any suitable words that should come 
to hand. Then I compared my Spectator with the original, dis- 
co v^ered some of my faults, and corrected them. But I found I 
wanted a stock of words, or a readiness in recollecting and using 
them, which I thought I should have acquired if I had gone on 
making verses; since the continual occasion for words of the same 
import, but of different length, to suit the measure, or of different 
sound for the rhyme, would have laid me under a constant neces- 
sity of searching for variety, and also have tended to fix that 
variety in my mind, and make me master of it. Therefore I took 
some of the tales and turned them into verse; and, after a time, 
when I had pretty well forgotten the prose, turned them back 
again. I also sometimes jumbled my collection of hints into con- 
fusion, and after some weeks endeavoured to reduce them into the 
best order, before I began to form the full sentences and complete 
the paper. This was to teach me method in the arrangement of 
thoughts. By comparing my work afterwards with the original, I 
discovered many faults and amended them; but I sometimes had 
the pleasure of fancying that, in certain particulars of small im- 
port, I had been lucky enough to improve the method or the 

1 6 Benjamin Franklin boston 

language, and this encouraged me to think I might possibly in 
time come to be a tolerable English writer, of which I was ex- 
tremely ambitious.”® 

As he tried to improve the manner of his writing, so he tried to 
improve his manners. Out of admiration for Socrates he gave up 
the disputatious habits he had formed, “and put on the humble 
inquirer and doubter. And being then, from reading Shaftesbury 
and Collins, become a real doubter in many points of our religious 
doctrine, I found this method safest for myself and very embarrass- 
ing to those against whom I used it; therefore I took a delight in 
it, practised it continually, and grew very expert in drawing 
people, even of superior knowledge, into concessions the conse- 
quences of which they did not foresee; entangling them in diffi- 
culties out of which they could not extricate themselves, and so 
obtaining victories that neither myself nor my cause always de- 
served. I continued this method some few years, but gradually left 
it, retaining only the habit of expressing myself in terms of modest 

For his studies Franklin needed both time and money. “My 
time for these exercises and for reading was at night, after work or 
before it began in the morning, or on Sundays, when I contrived 
to be in the printing-house alone, evading as much as I could the 
common attendance on public worship which my father used to 
exact of me when I was under his care, and which indeed I still 
thought a duty, though I could not, as it seemed to me, afford time 
to practise it.” He saved money by becoming a vegetarian — ^after 
he had read Thomas Tryon’s The Way to Health — and propos- 
ing to his brother “that if he would give me, weekly, half the 
money he paid for my board, I would board myself. He in- 
standy agreed to it, and I presently found that I could save half 
what he paid me. This was an additional fund for buying books. 
But I had another advantage in it. My brother and the rest going 
from the printing-house to their meals, I remained there alone, 
and, dispatching presently my light repast, which was often no 
more than a biscuit or a slice of bread, a handful of raisins or a 
tart from the pastry-cook’s, and a glass of water, had the rest of the 
time till their return for study, in which I made the greater prog- 



Fir§l Experiments 

ress, from that greater clearness of head and quicker apprehension 
which usually attend temperance in eating and drinking/ 

Though Franklin, hungry for time in which to study, might stay 
away from church, he could not avoid the family prayers at home. 
Once, when the winter’s provision of meat had been salted, he 
proposed that his father say grace over the whole cask once for all.® 
At morning and evening prayers the restless apprentice taught 
himself geography from the four large maps which hung on the 
walls of the solemn room.'^ So far as any record shows, his work and 
his studies were his whole life from twelve to sixteen. But it may 
have been during these years that he tried his earliest known 
experiments. '‘When I was a boy I made two oval palettes,” he 
wrote long afterwards to Barbeu Dubourg, "each about ten inches 
long and six broad, with a hole for the thumb, in order to retain it 
fast in the palm of my hand. They much resembled a painter’s 
palettes. In swimming I pushed the edges of these forward, and I 
struck the water with their flat surfaces as I drew them back. 
I remember I swam faster by means of these palettes, but they 
fatigued my wrists. I also fitted to the soles of my feet a kind of 
sandals; but I was not satisfied with them, because I observed that 
the stroke is partly given by the inside of the feet and the ankles, 
and not entirely with the soles of the feet. . . . When I was a boy, 
I amused myself one day with flying a paper kite; and, approaching 
the bank of a pond which was near a mile broad, I tied the string 
to a stake, and the kite ascended to a very considerable height 
above the pond, while I was swimming. In a little time, being 
desirous of amusing myself with my kite and enjoying at the same 
time the pleasure of swimming, I returned; and, loosing from the 
stake the string with the little stick which was fastened to it, went 
again into the water, where I found that, lying on my back and 
holding the stick in my hands, I was drawn along the surface of the 
water in a very agreeable manner. Having then engaged another 
boy to carry my clothes round the pond, to a place which I pointed 
out to him on the other side, I began to cross the pond with my 
kite, which carried me quite over without the least fatigue, and 
with the greatest pleasure imaginable. I was only obliged occa- 
sionally to halt a little in my course, and resist its progress, when it 

18 Benjamin Franklin boston 

appeared that, by following too quick, I lowered the kite too much; 
by doing which I occasionally made it rise again. I have never since 
that time practised this singular mode of swimming.'’® 

For either sports or experiments he was too ambitious to have 
much time, and his ambition seems to have kept him close to books. 
He barely mentions boys of his own age, only one by name, and no 
girl at all. 


The establishment of the New England Courant brought him, 
as apprentice to the printer, into his first touch with affairs. There 
were already two newspapers in Boston, the Boston News Letter 
and the Boston Gazette: semi-official, conservative, and dull. There 
were two because there had been a quarrel. The News Letter had 
been published by the postmaster, who could read the mail, learn 
the news, have it printed, and distribute his papers by his carriers. 
But when John Campbell lost his post in 1718, he refused to turn 
over the News Letter to his successor, William Brooker. Brooker, 
angry, started the Gazette and gave the printing of it to James 
Franklin. Within a year there was a third postmaster, Philip Mus- 
grave, who took the printing away from Franklin. Franklin, now 
angry too, undertook a third nervspaper. “I remember,” his 
brother later wrote, “his being dissuaded by some of his friends 
from the undertaking, as being not likely to succeed. . . . He 
went on, however, with the undertaking, and after having worked 
in composing the types and printing off the sheets, I was employed 
to carry the papers through the streets to the customers.”^ 

Not all James Franklin’s friends dissuaded him. A new spirit 
was moving in Boston and there was a lively opposition which had 
hitherto had no voice. Episcopalians and deists alike resented the 
stubborn power of the Congregational churches. To men of easy 
temper the Puritanism of the Mathers and the magistrates seemed 
as old as Cromwell. John Checkley, bookseller and apothecary, had 
lived fifteen years in Europe, and in Boston had argued in favour 
of bishops and been harried and fined by the authorities. William 
Douglass, born in Scotland, had studied medicine at Edinburgh, 

CHAPTER 2 Inoculation for Smallpox 1 9 

Leyden, and Paris, and had come to Boston with the only medical 
degree in America. These two more than any others encouraged 
James Franklin, who had learned his trade in the London of Addi- 
son and Steele, of popular freethinkers, of coffee houses and Grub 
Street. A bookselling apothecary (later a clergyman), a physician, 
and a printer put their heads together to give Boston a newspaper 
such as the town had never had before. 

The first number appeared in the middle of a hot summer 
(7 August) when smallpox was epidemic, and the Couranfs “chief 
design” was to “oppose the doubtful and dangerous practice”^^ of 
inoculation. Cotton Mather, who had heard from one of his slaves 
about inoculation in Africa and had read about inoculation in 
Constantinople, late in June suggested to Zabdiel Boylston that he 
try the experiment. Boylston inoculated two of his sons and two 
of his slaves, and went on to become the real hero of the plague 
and to leave the first masterly clinical report by an American phy- 
sician. His venture caused uproar in Boston. The selectmen called 
him to account. Pamphlets and newspapers abused him. His life 
and Mather’s were threatened. Mather, the apologist for the prac- 
tice, got more blame than the practitioner. 

Douglass, writing in the Courant^^ that inoculation had come 
from “the Greek old women,” opposed it on medical grounds, like 
most of the Boston doctors. Knowing nothing of bacteriology, they 
saw only fantastic hocus-pocus in the new preventive. Let Cotton 
Mather go back to his witches. The Boston wits who quickly took 
to the new paper, and wrote for it, fell in with Douglass. They 
baited and twitted the Mathers. The Mathers answered back. A 
grandson of Increase Mather, Thomas Walter, once an intimate 
friend of Checkley but recently at odds with him, wrote a broadside 
answer (also printed by James Franklin) to the first number: The 
Little-Compton Scourge; or^ The Anti-Courant. Walter, who must 
have had Checkley in mind, superciliously condemned the anony- 
mous apothecary who talked of gentle readers but who could not 
hope to interest any but “men of passion and resentment.” Check- 
ley in the third Courant replied to this “obscene and fuddling 
Merry-Andrew” and accused him of drunkenness and debauchery. 
Although James Franklin promptly denied that any of his writers 
had ever meant to reflect on the clergy or the government, and 

£0 Benjamin Franklin boston 

Checkley wrote no more for the Courant, there could never be 
peace with the Mathers. Cotton Mather declared that ‘‘the practice 
of supporting and publishing every week a libel on purpose to 
lessen and blacken and burlesque the virtuous and principal min- 
isters of religion in a country, and render the services of their 
ministry despicable, even detestable, to the people, is a wickedness 
that was never known before in any country, Christian, Turkish, 
or Pagan, on the face of the earth.”^^ And he named the writers 
for the Courant the Hell-Fire Club. 

The argument over inoculation ran as long as the epidemic 
lasted, but the Courant after a few numbers turned more and more 
to lighter themes. A Clan of Honest Wags wrote to the editor 
that they were tired of the paper’s one subject and could do- better 
themselves.^^ There was no such clan, as there was no actual Hell- 
Fire Club. There were an enterprising printer and two or three 
contributors at first, and soon others. This was enough to bring the 
Spectator to Boston and start a little war with dullness. “The pub- 
lisher earnestly desires,” the second Courant said, “his friends may 
favour him from time to time with some short pieces, serious, sar- 
castic, ludicrous, or otherwise amusing; or sometimes professedly 
dull (to accommodate some of his acquaintance) that this Courant 
may be of the more universal use.” His friends did favour him. 
Every Monday the newspaper, usually a single sheet printed on 
both sides, listed the ships which had entered or left the port, and 
gave bits of news from other towns or colonies or from Europe. But 
the essence of the Courant was letters to the editor from Timothy 
Turnstone, Tom Penshallow, Tom Tram, Ichabod Henroost, Abi- 
gail Afterwit, Betty Frugal, Fanny Mournful, Homespun Jack, 
Tabitha Talkative, Dorothy Love, Philanthropus, Philomusus, 
Hypercarpus, Hypercriticus: all the Boston wits being as Addiso- 
nian as they could about Boston manners. Obliged to be careful 
about ministers and magistrates, they poked fun at rival editors 
and the postmaster. They hinted scandals. They ridiculed foppery, 
protested against extravagance, burlesqued pedantry, and talked 
again and again about the charms and follies of women. 

The files of the Courant are dead now, except for rummaging 
antiquarians. But it is in the Courant for 2 April 1722 that Benja- 
min Franklin, sixteen, first speaks in prose known to be his. And ho 

CHAPTERS Silence Dogood 21 

speaks, like the other contributors, under a disguise, calling him-^ 
self Silence Dogood. 


“It may not be improper in the first Place to inform your Read- 
ers, that I intend once a Fortnight to present them, by the Help of 
this Paper, with a short Epistle, which I presume will add some- 
what to their Entertainment, 

“And since it is observed, that the Generality of People, now a 
days, are unwilling either to commend or dispraise what they read, 
until they are in some measure informed who or what the Author 
of it is, whether he be poor or rich, old or young, a Scollar or a 
Leather-Apron Man, &c., and give their Opinion of the Perform- 
ance, according to the Knowledge which they have of the Author’s 
Circumstances, it may not be amiss to begin with a short Account 
of my past Life and present Condition, that the Reader may not be 
at a Loss to judge whether or no my Lucubrations are worth his 

(Addison as Mr. Spectator had introduced himself: “I have 
observed that a reader seldom peruses a book with pleasure until 
he knows whether the writer of it be a black or a fair man, of a mild 
or choleric disposition, married or a bachelor, with other particu- 
lars of the like nature that conduce very much to the right under- 
standing of an author.” But Addison had not even thought of 
“poor or rich, old or young, a scholar or a leather-apron man.”) 

The whole character of Silence Dogood reveals, in stroke after 
stroke through three papers, the boy who imagined her. She had 
been born, she said, on shipboard on the way to New England, and 
her father had been lost on the voyage. Living in the country, not 
far from town, “I was bound out apprentice, that I might no longer 
be a charge to my indigent mother, who was put to hard shifts for 
a living.” Her master was a minister who saw that she was taught 
needle-work, writing, and arithmetic, and, “observing that I took 
a more than ordinary delight in reading ingenious books, he gave 
me the free use of his library, which though it was but small yet it 
was well chose, to inform the understanding rightly and enable the 
mind to form great and noble ideas.” In time the minister began 
to look for a wife and, after “several unsuccessful fruitless attempts 
on the more topping part of our sex,” he chose his apprentice — ^as 

22 Ben jamin Franklin boston 

Peter Folger had chosen his indentured servant, Benjamin’s grand- 
mother. “As he had been a great benefactor (and in a manner a 
father to me), I could not well deny his request.” Married, mother 
of three children, and widowed. Silence Dogood now lived quietly 
in the country. “I am an enemy to vice and a friend to virtue. I am 
of an extensive charity and a great forgiver of private injuries; a 
hearty lover of the clergy and all good men, and a mortal enemy 
to arbitrary government and unlimited power. ... I have like- 
wise a natural inclination to observe and reprove the faults of 
others, at which I have an excellent faculty. ... I now take up a 
resolution to do for the future all that lies in my way for the service 
of my countrymen.”^® 

Franklin, “being still a boy, and suspecting that my brother 
would object to printing anything of mine in his paper if he knew 
it to be mine,”^*^ had slipped his first letter from Silence Dogood 
under the door of the printing-house. And though what he had 
written pleased his brother and his friends, and Mrs. Dogood was 
welcomed, the apprentice kept his secret. Sometimes in his in- 
vented role, more often unconsciously as himself, he put his young 
thoughts into words. 

Mrs. Dogood, having an allegorical dream about Harvard Col- 
lege, saw it with Franklin’s eyes. Riches and Poverty kept the gate, 
and Poverty rejected those whom Riches did not recommend. 
Within the temple Learning sat on a high throne reached by diffi- 
cult steps. Most of the worshippers “contented themselves to sit at 
the foot with Madam Idleness and her maid Ignorance” until they 
had to ascend, when “they were fain to crave the assistance of those 
who had got up before them, and who, for the reward perhaps of 
a pint of milk or a piece of plum cake, lent the lubbers a helping 
hand and sat them, in the eyes of the world, upon a level with 
themselves. . . . Every beetle-skull seemed well satisfied with his 
own portion of learning, though perhaps he was e'en just as igno- 
rant as ever.” Once out of the temple, “some* I perceived took to 
merchandising, others to travelling, some to one thing, some to 
another, and some to nothing; and many of them from henceforth, 
for want of patrimony, lived as poor as church mice, being unable 
to dig and ashamed to beg, and to live by their wits it was impossx 


Jvew England Poetry 

fale. ... I reflected in my mind on the extreme folly of those 
parents who, blind to their children's dullness and insensible of 
the solidity of their skulls, because they think their purses can 
afford It will needs send them to the Temple of Learning, where, 
for want of a suitable genius, they learn little more than how to 
carry themselves handsomely and enter a room genteelly (which 
might as well be acquired at a dancing-school), and from whence 
they return, after abundance of trouble and charge, as great block- 
heads as ever, only more proud and self-conceited.”^® 

The apprentice had once thought of Harvard and the ministry 
for himself, but now that he was a tradesman he smiled at them to 
prove how little he had missed and how sensibly he had preferred 
a better career. (He even knew enough Latin to furnish most of the 
Dogood papers with pertinent Latin mottoes.) And it was a re- 
formed poet, no Widow Dogood, who humorously took up the 
cause of New England poetry. Visitors to the country did not ex- 
pect good poetry there, but perhaps the reason was that it had so 
little native encouragement. Let it be encouraged by suitable 

‘‘There has lately appeared among us a most excellent piece of 
poetry, entitled An Elegy upon the Much Lamented Death of 
Mrs. Mehitabel Kitel^ Wife of Mr. John Kitel of Salem, etc. It may 
be justly said in its praise, without flattery to the author, that it is 
the most extraordinary piece that was ever wrote in New England. 
The language is so soft and easy, the expression so moving and 
pathetic, but above all, the verse and numbers so charming and 
natural that it is almost beyond comparison. . . . And for the af- 
fecting part, I will leave your readers to judge if ever they read 
any lines that would sooner make them draw their breath and 
sigh, if not shed tears, than these following: 

Come let us mourn, for we have lost a wife, a daughter, and a sister. 
Who have lately taken flight, and greatly we have missed her. 

“In another place: 

Some little time before she yielded up her breath. 

She said, I ne'er shall hear one sermon more on earth. 

She kissed her husband some little time before she expired. 

Then leaned her head the pillow on, just out of breath and tired. 

£4 Benjamin Franklin boston 

'‘But the threefold appellation in the first line — 
a wife, a daughter, and a sister- 

must not pass unobserved. That line in the celebrated Watts — 
Gunston the just, the generous, and the young— 

is nothing comparable to it. The latter only mentions three quali- 
fications of one person who^ was deceased, which could therefore 
raise grief and compassion for but one. Whereas the former (our 
most excellent poet) gives his reader a sort of an idea of the death 
of three persons, viz.: 

a wife, a daughter, and a sister, 

which is three times as great a loss as the death of one and conse- 
quently must raise three times as much grief and compassion in 
the reader. 

“The author has (to his honor) invented a new species of poetry, 
which wants a name and was never before known. ... Now 'tis 
pity that such an excellent piece should not be dignified with a 
particular name; and seeing it cannot be called either Epic, Sap- 
phic, Lyric, or Pindaric, nor any other name yet invented, I pre- 
sume it may (in honor and remembrance of the dead) be called 
the Kitelic.*' 

For the benefit of New England poets who wrote nothing so 
often as elegies, the critic offered A Receipt to Make a New Eng- 
land Funeral Elegy. 

'‘For the title of your elegy. Of these you may have enough ready 
made to your hands; but if you should choose to make it yourself, 
you must be sure not to omit the words cetatis suce, which will 
beautify it exceedingly. 

“For the subject of your elegy. Take one of your neighbours 
who has lately departed this life; it is no great matter at what age 
the party died, but it will be best if he went away suddenly, being 
killed, drowned, or froze to death. 

“Having chose the person, take all his virtues, excellencies, 
etc., and if he have not enough, you may borrow some to make up 
a sufficient quantity: to these add his last words, dying expressions, 
etc., if they are to be had; mix all these together and be sure you 

CHAPTERS Franklin's Elegy"* 25 

strain them well. Then season all with a handful or two of melam 
choly expressions, such as dreadful, deadly ^ cruel cold deaths un- 
happy fate, weeping eyes, etc. Having mixed all these ingredients 
well, put them into the empty skull of some young Harvard (but 
in case you have ne’er a one at hand, you may use your own); 
there let them ferment for the space of a fortnight, and by that 
time they will be incorporated into a body, which take out; and 
having prepared a sufficient quantity of double rhymes, such as 
power, flower; quiver, shiver; grieve us, leave us; tell you, excel 
you; expeditions, physicians; fatigue him, intrigue him, etc., you 
must spread all upon paper, and if you can procure a scrap of 
Latin to put at the end, it will garnish it mightily; then having 
affixed your name at the bottom, with a Moestus composuit, you 
will have an excellent elegy. 

‘W. jB. This receipt will serve when a female is the subject of 
your elegy, provided you borrow a greater quantity of virtues, 
excellencies, etc.”^^ 

This was the most ejffective of all the Dogood papers. Other con- 
tributors caught at the name Kitelic and for months applied it 
again and again to bad native verse. Probably none of them knew 
that the parodist had himself written an elegy of the very kind he 
laughed at. Or sO' it seems from the manuscript Elegy on My Sister 
Franklin, only recently discovered and now first mentioned in a 
Franklin biography. The precise date of the Elegy is still uncer- 
tain, and the name of the sister-in-law whose death called it forth. 
But the parody’s ridicule of the Kitelic triple epithet “a wife, a 
daughter, and a sister” glanced at Franklin’s own line: 

We’ve lost a Mother, Daughter, Sister kind; 

and the general language of the Elegy, while less hackneyed than 
that of the parody, was high and turgid. 

Warm from my Breast surcharg’d with Grief Sc Woe 
These melancholly Strains spontaneous flow 
Flow for a fav’rite Sister’s sad Decease 
Flow for the worthiest of the female Race. , . . 

My dear my much-loved Sister!— O my Friend 
We in this World on nothing may depend: 

For soon as we esteem ourselves possest 

Benjamin Franklin 

Of every needful Thing to make us blest 
Some Friend’s Demise (like hers we now lament) 

Casual Mischance, or tragical Event 
Like an intrudent Guest will intervene 
Frustrate our Hopes and mar our blissful Scene. 

How weak! how vain! how void all mundane Joys 
i\ Medley fraught with Nonsense, Shew and Noise 
O what is Life which we so high esteem 
A Bubble, Vapour, Shadow, fleeting Dream 
From sordid Dust we sprang & surely must 
Or soon or late return to native Dust 
What mortal Man even in his best Estate 
All Vanity, Pride, Folly and Deceit. . . . 

Crowns have their Thorns and Opulence its Bane 
And all our Pleasures their Alloy of Pain 
All the Vicissitudes of Life declare 
Uncertainty alone is certain here. . . . 

No sublunary Blessings long endure 
And from Death’s Clutches nought can us ensure 
Who o’er all Flesh maintains a sovereign Sway 
And Millions fall his Victims every Day 
Nor Worth, Wit, Beauty, Wealth or Power can free 
From rigid Fate’s immutable Decree. . . . 

Else might this worthy Saint whose wayward Fate 
We now deplore have claimed a longer Date 
Of circling Years her Kin to serve and bless 
Enjoy her Friends and Life’s good Things possess. • • 
And tho I humbly trust our Friend deceas’d 
Is wafted to the Saints eternal Rest 
Yet her sad Exit maugre my Resolves 
In Woe’s profound Abyss my Soul involves 
With Sighs 8c Groans my lab’ring Bosom swells 
And down my cheeks Grief’s mournful Stream impels 
May Heaven forgive me if I ought offend 
Whilst thus I mourn my dear departed Friend 
Sure Heaven forbids not for our Friends to mourn 
Nor to bedew with Tears their peaceful Urn. 


These are perhaps the earliest surviving words of Franklin, writ- 
ten when he had not yet finally decided between poetry and prose. 
But by 25 June 1722, when he parodied such elegies as his. he had 

CHAPTER 2 James Franklin* s Troubles 9.1 

found an idiom fully natural to him and had things more urgent 
than Kitelic elegies to think about. 


The anger of the Mathers had made the magistrates watchful. 
In the Courant for ii June, James Franklin printed a fictitious 
letter from Newport which said that pirates had been seen off 
that coast. *‘We are advised from Boston that the government of 
the Massachusetts are fitting out a ship (the Flying Horse), to go 
after the pirates, to be commanded by Captain Peter Papillon, and 
'tis thought he will sail some time this month, wind and weather 
permitting.’’ The Council took this for contempt of the authori^ 
ties, and James Franklin was arrested, examined, and committed 
to the stone jail in Boston: ‘1 suppose,” his brother explains, “be^ 
cause he would not discover his author. I too was taken up and 
examined before the Council; but, though I did not give them any 
satisfaction, they contented themselves with admonishing me, and 
dismissed me, considering me, perhaps, as an apprentice who was 
bound to keep his master’s secrets.”^^ After a week in prison James 
Franklin told the Council he was ‘‘truly sensible and heartily 
sorry,” and after a month, when Dr. Boylston had certified that the 
offender’s health had suffered from confinement, he was released. 
“It was no mitigation of my punishment,” he wrote in a lively 
account of it in the Courant, “to think that better men than myself 
had been in prison before me. I know the late Governor Dudley 
was confined in the time of the Revolution; but I never could 
perceive that the gaol stank a whit the less for him.”^^ 

During the brother’s absence Benjamin carried on the news- 
paper alone. In his eighth Dogood paper he spoke his mind in “an 
abstract from the London Journal”: “Without freedom of thought 
there can be no such thing as wisdom; and no such thing as public 
liberty without freedom of speech; which is the right of every man 
as far as by it he does not hurt or control the right of another; and 
this is the only check it ought to suffer and the only bounds it 
ought to know. . . . Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a 
nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech: a thing 

£8 Benjamin Franklin boston 

terrible to public traitors/’^^ But the younger brother was shrewd 
as well as bold. Ever since the beginning of the Courant he had 
apparently kept a file of the paper, for himself or for the office, and 
had methodically entered in his own handwriting the names of the 
contributors. Either he had not entered the names for the offend- 
ing issue and the one before it or he now destroyed them and 
substituted other copies. In any case, he gave up his careful habit, 
and after 28 May the file betrays no secrets.^^ 

The six later Dogood papers had more and more of the appren- 
tice in them. 'It has been for some time a question with me 
whether a commonwealth suffers more by hypocritical pretenders 
to religion or by the openly profane. But some late thoughts of 
this nature have inclined me to think that the hypocrite is the 
more dangerous person of the two, especially if he sustains a post 
in the government, ... A little religion, and a little honesty, 
goes a great way in courts. ... If we have had, or are like to 
have, any instances of this nature in New England, we cannot 
better manifest our love to religion and the country than by set- 
ting the deceivers in a true light and undeceiving the deceived, 
however such discoveries may be represented by the ignorant or 
designing enemies of our peace and safety. The apprentice put 
in the mouth of Mrs. Dogood an argument for insurance for 
widows, from Defoe, and another for old maids, but it must have 
been his observation not hers which lay back of his remarks on 

“ ’Tis true, drinking does not improve our faculties, but it en- 
ables us to use them; and therefore I conclude that much study 
and experience, and a little liquor, are of absolute necessity for 
some tempers, in order to make them accomplished orators. . . . 
The moderate use of liquor and a well-placed and well-regulated 
anger often produce this same effect; and some wits who cannot 
ordinarily talk but in broken sentences and false grammar do in 
the heat of passion express themselves with as much eloquence as 
warmth. . . . But after all it must be considered that no pleasure 
can give satisfaction or prove advantageous to a reasonable mind 
which is not attended with the restraints of reason. . . . 'Tis 
strange to see men of a regular conversation become rakish and 
profane when intoxicated with drink, and yet more surprising to 

CHAPTER % The Drunkard" s Vocabulary £9 

observe that some who appear to be the most profligate wretches 
when sober become mighty religious in their cups, and will then, 
and at no other time, address their Maker but when they are desti- 
tute of reason and actually affronting Him. Some shrink in the 
wetting, and others swell to such an unusual bulk in their imag- 
inations that they can in an instant understand all arts and sciences, 
by the liberal education of a little vivifying punch or a sufficient 
quantity of other exhilarating liquor. ... It argues some shame 
in the drunkards themselves that they have invented numberless 
words and phrases to cover their folly, whose proper significations 
are harmless or have no signification at all. They are seldom known 
to be drunk, though they are very often boozy, cogey^ tipsy ^ foxedj 
merry^ mellow, fuddled, groatable, confoundedly cut, see two 
moons; are among the Philistines, in a very good humor^ see the 
sun, or, the sun has shone upon them; they clip the King"s English, 
are almost froze, feverish, in their altitudes, pretty well entered, 
etc. In short, every day produces some new word or phrase which 
might be added to the vocabulary of the tipplers. But I have chose 
to mention these few, because if at any time a man of sobriety and 
temperance happens to cut himself confoundedly, or is almost 
froze, or feverish, or accidentally sees the sun, etc,, he may escape 
the imputation of being drunk, when his misfortune comes to be 

‘In persons of a contemplative disposition,'* the apprentice 
wrote, “the most indifferent things provoke the exercise of the 
imagination; and the satisfactions which often arise to them thereby 
are a certain relief to the labor of the mind (when it has been 
intensely fixed on more substantial subjects) as well as to that of 
the body. In one of the late pleasant moonlight evenings" — ^this 
was in September — “I so far indulged in myself the humor of the 
town in walking abroad as to continue from my lodgings two or 
three hours later than usual. ... I met a crowd of Tarpaulins 
and their doxies, linked to each other by the arms, who ran (by 
their own account) after the rate of six knots an hour, and bent 
their course toward the Common. Their eager and amorous 
emotions of body, occasioned by taking their mistresses in tow, 
they called wild steerage; and as a pair of them happened to trip 
and come to the ground, the company were called upon to bring 

so Benjamin Franklin boston 

to, for that Jack and Betty were foundered. But this fleet were not 
less comical than a company of females I soon after came up with, 
who, by throwing their heads to the right and left at everyone who 
passed by them, I concluded came out with no other design than 
to revive the spirit of love in disappointed bachelors, and expose 
themselves to sale to the first bidder. ... As it grew later I 
observed that many pensive youths, with down looks and a slow 
pace, would be ever now and then crying out on the cruelty of 
their mistresses; others with a more rapid pace and cheerful air 
would be swinging their canes and clapping their cheeks, and 
whispering at certain intervals: Tm certain I shall have her! This 
is more than I expected! How charmingly she talks!' 

The industrious apprentice had taken a few hours off from his 
work, his books, and his ambition, to look with sharp, humorous 
eyes at idlers. And, as if to prove that he was Benjamin Franklin, 
he added a little apologue on economy: *'Upon the whole I con- 
clude that our night-walkers are a set of people who contribute 
very much to the health and satisfaction of those who have been 
fatigued with business or study and occasionally observe their 
pretty gestures and impertinencies. But among men of business 
the shoemakers and other dealers in leather are doubly obliged to 
them, inasmuch as they exceedingly promote the consumption of 
their ware. And I have heard of a shoemaker who, upon being 
asked by a noted rambler whether he could tell how long her shoes 
would last, very prettily answered that he knew how many days she 
might wear them but not how many nights; because they were then 
put to a more violent and irregular service than when she employed 
herself in the common affairs of the house." 

James Franklin had repented only enough to get out of prison, 
and the Courant kept up its opposition, now more to the magis- 
trates than to the ministers. On 14 January 1723 a vigorous article 
resumed the theme of the Dogood paper which had argued that 
‘‘hypocritical pretenders to religion" are worse for a common^ 
wealth than the “openly profane." “There are many persons,” this 
Courant said, “who seem to be more than ordinary religious, but 
yet are on several accounts worse, by far, than those who pretend 
to no religion at all." At once the Council struck again, and 
forbade James Franklin to print or publish his newspaper, “or any 

CHAPTER 2 Franklin as Publisher SI 

other pamphlet or paper of the like nature, except it first be super- 
vised by the Secretary of this Province.*' The friends of the C our ant 
met and, after weighing various stealthy schemes, decided that it 
should now be printed in the name of Benjamin Franklin. *'To 
avoid the censure of the Assembly,** the younger tells, “that might 
fall on him as still printing it by his apprentice, the contrivance 
was that my old indenture should be returned to me, with a full 
discharge on the back of it, to be shown on occasion; but to secure 
to him the benefit of my service, I was to sign new indentures fox 
the remainder of the term, which were to be kept private. A very 
flimsy scheme it was; however, it was immediately executed.**^® 
The C our ant for 1 1 February, as by the new publisher, announced 
a new policy. “The present undertaking ... is designed purely 
for the diversion and merriment of the reader. Pieces of pleasancy 
and mirth have a secret charm in them to allay the heats and 
tumours of our spirits, and to make a man forget his restless resent- 
ments. They have a strange power to tune the harsh disorders of 
the soul, and to reduce us to a serene and placid state of mind. 
The main design of this weekly paper will be to entertain the town 
with the most comical and diverting incidents of humane life. . . . 
Nor shall we be wanting to fill up these papers with a grateful 
interspersion of more serious morals which may be drawn from the 
most ludicrous and odd parts of life.** 

This prospectus must have been by Benjamin Franklin, and so 
must have been an article, in the following number, on honours 
and titles of respect. It was a witty as well as mature apprentice who 
wrote: “In old time it was no disrespect for men and women to be 
called by their own names. Adam was never called Master Adam; 
we never read of Noah Esquire, Lot Knight and Baronet, nor the 
Right Honourable Abraham, Viscount Mesopotamia, Baron of 
Canaan. No, no, they were plain men, honest country graziers, 
that took care of their families and their flocks. Moses was a great 
prophet and Aaron a priest of the Lord; but we never read of the 
Reverend Moses nor the Right Reverend Father in God, Aaron, 
by Divine Providence Lord Archbishop of Israel. Thou never 
sawest Madam Rebecca in the Bible, my Lady Rachel; nor Mary, 
though a princess of the blood, after the death of Joseph called the 
Princess Dowager of Nazareth. No, plain Rebecca, Rachel, Mary, 

32 Benjamin Franklin boston 

or the Widow Mary, or the like. It was no incivility then to men- 
tion their naked names as they were expressed.” 

The C our ant prospered under its discreeter policy, increased its 
circulation, and raised its price. But it was not large enough to 
have room in it for two Franklins. James, married to Ann Smith 
in February, was a capable printer and journalist, but Benja- 
min at seventeen had the best mind in Boston and was the best 
apprentice in the world. Though he could not know that, neither 
could he help outgrowing his position and feeling uncomfortable 
in it. James too was uncomfortable. The truth about the Dogood 
papers had come out, the writer had been so much praised that his 
master thought him vain, and now Benjamin, ostensibly the pub- 
lisher and no longer an apprentice, had the advantage if he cared 
to use it. He did. “I took upon me to assert my freedom,” Ben- 
jamin admits, “presuming that he would not venture to produce 
the new indentures. It was not fair in me to take this advantage, 
and this I therefore reckon one of the first errata of my life; but 
the unfairness of it weighed little with me when under the impres- 
sions of resentment for the blows his passion too often urged him 
to bestow upon me, though he was otherwise not an ill-natured 
man. Perhaps I was too saucy and provoking.’’^® 

An indenture of apprenticeship in 1723 was more than a simple 
understanding. Master and apprentice were bound in what was 
almost a trade sacrament, and Benjamin, leaving his master who 
was also his brother, could not avoid a strong sense of guilt. But 
neither could he any longer endure their incompatibility. Yet at 
first he meant no more than to find journeyman work with one of 
the other Boston printers. James stopped that by speaking first to 
all of them. Masters must stand together even if brothers could 
not. “I then thought of going to New York, as the nearest place 
where there was a printer; and I was rather inclined to leave Boston 
when I reflected that I had already made myself a little obnoxious 
to the governing party, and ... it was likely I might, if I stayed, 
soon bring myself into scrapes; and farther, that my indiscreet 
disputations about religion began to make me pointed at with 
horror by good people as an infidel or atheist. I determined on the 
point, but my father now siding with my brother, I was sensible 
that, if I attempted to go openly, means would be used to prevent 

CHAPTER 2 Flight from Boilon 33 

me. My friend Collins, therefore, undertook to manage a little for 
me. He agreed with the captain of a New York sloop for my 
passage, under the notion of my being a young acquaintance of 
his that had got a naughty girl with child, whose friends would 
compel me to marry her, and therefore I could not appear or come 
away publicly. So I sold some of my books to raise a little money, 
was taken on board privately, and, as we had a fair wind, in three 
days I found myself in New York.'’^^ 

That methodical file of the Courant which Benjamin Franklin 
had kept ends with the number for i6 September. Two weeks later 
a famous advertisement in the paper said: ''James Franklin, printer 
in Queen’s Street, wants a likely lad for an apprentice.” 



M ather BYLES, another Mather grandson who had 
written against the C our ant and who was almost exactly 
Benjamin Franklin’s age, was then at Harvard, and he stayed on in 
Boston to be its clerical wit and man of letters till the Revolution. 
Thomas Hutchinson, five years younger, that year entered Har- 
vard, also to stay in Boston and in time become governor of Massa- 
chusetts. If either of these promising sons of the “governing party’’ 
had left Boston for New York or Philadelphia he would have car- 
ried letters of recommendation to ministers and officials anywhere 
he might go. The runaway apprentice, with no letters and little 
money, had all his fortunes in his fingers and his mind, but he was 
not too much worse off than the privileged boys would have been. 
As there was a kind of fraternity of the ruling caste from province 
to province, so was there a fraternity of tradesmen. Wherever 
Franklin could find a master printer he could be at home if there 
was work for him to do, and if there was work he could do it. 

Furtive on his voyage to New York, he was still reasonable. 
Becalmed off Block Island, the sailors caught cod out of the sea 
and ate them. The vegetarian philosopher told himself that this 
was unprovoked murder, since none of the fish had injured any 
of the men. “But I had formerly been a great lover of fish, and, 
when this came hot out of the frying-pan, it smelt admirably well, 
I balanced some time between principle and inclination, till I 
recollected that, when the fish were opened, I saw smaller fish 
taken out of their stomachs; then thought I: If you eat one 
another, I don’t see why we mayn’t eat you.’ So I dined upon cod 
very heartily, and continued to eat with other people, returning 
only now and then to a vegetable diet. So convenient a thing it is 

$ 8 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a 
reason for everything one has a mind to do.”^ 

New York, then still a smaller town than Boston, had no news- 
paper and only one printer, William Bradford, who had been 
the first printer in Philadelphia and, after trouble with the author- 
ities there, government printer in New York for thirty years. 
Bradford could not use a new hand, but he said that his son 
Andrew Bradford in Philadelphia had just lost a journeyman by 
death and might need another. Franklin, leaving his chest to fol- 
low him, set out across the bay in a boat for Perth Amboy, to walk 
from there across New Jersey fifty miles to Burlington. 

For this journey he is the sole historian.^ “In crossing the bay we 
met with a squall that tore our rotten sails to pieces, prevented our 
getting into the Kill, and drove us upon Long Island. In our way, 
a drunken Dutchman, who was a passenger too, fell overboard; 
when he was sinking I reached through the water to his shock pate 
and drew him up so that we got him in again.’' The man had a 
Dutch (German?) Pilgrim's Progress, and Franklin, an expert 
even in a storm, thought it a better edition than he had ever seen 
in English. The surf made it impossible for the boat to land on 
Long Island, and they were obliged to lie at anchor overnight, all 
of them as wet as the Dutchman. “But, the wind abating the next 
day, we made a shift to reach Amboy before night, having been 
thirty hours on the water, without victuals or any drink but a bot- 
tle of filthy rum, and the water we sailed on being salt.” 

Feverish, he remembered something he had read, drank a great 
deal of cold water before he went to sleep, and woke up well the 
next morning. Having crossed the ferry at Perth Amboy, he 
walked till noon in the rain and then stopped for the rest of the 
day at a poor inn, “beginning now to wish that I had never left 
home.” The second night he met an inn-keeper who, “finding I 
had read a little, became very sociable and friendly.” They talked 
about books and were friends thereafter as long as the inn-keeper 
lived. At Burlington on Franklin’s third morning he found that 
the regular boat by which he meant to go down the Delaware to 
Philadelphia had left, and that there would be no other for three 
days. “An old woman in the town, of whom I had bought ginger- 
bread to eat on the water . . . invited me to lodge at her 



Arrival in Philadelphia 

house. . . . She was very hospitable, gave me a dinner of ox-cheek 
with great good will, accepting only of a pot of ale in return.” But, 
“walking in the evening by the side of the river,” he saw another 
b<^at which, he learned, was on its way to Philadelphia “with sev- 
eral people in her.” He joined them and they rowed downstream 
till midnight. Afraid they might pass the town in the dark, “we put 
toward the shore, got into a creek, landed near an old fence with 
the rails of which we made a fire, the night being cold, in October, 
and there we remained till daylight.” At eight or nine o’clock on a 
Sunday morning they reached the Market Street wharf in Phila- 

“I was in my working dress, my best clothes being to come round 
by sea. I was dirty from my journey; my pockets were stuffed out 
with shirts and stockings; and I knew no soul nor where to look 
for lodging. I was fatigued with travelling, rowing, and want of 
rest; I was very hungry; and my whole stock of cash consisted of a 
Dutch dollar and about a shilling in copper. The latter I gave the 
people of the boat for my passage, who at first refused it, on account 
of my rowing; but I insisted on their taking it. A man being some- 
times more generous when he has but a little money than when he 
has plenty, perhaps through fear of being thought to have but 

“Then I walked up the street, gazing about till near the market 
house I met a boy with bread. I had made many a meal on bread, 
and, inquiring where he got it, I went immediately to the baker’s 
he directed me to, in Second Street, and asked for biscuit, intend- 
ing such as we had in Boston; but they, it seems, were not made in 
Philadelphia. Then I asked for a threepenny loaf, and was told 
they had none such. So, not considering or knowing the difference 
of money, and the greater cheapness nor the names of his bread, I 
bade him give me threepenny worth of any sort. He gave me, 
accordingly, three great puffy rolls. I was surprised at the quantity, 
but took it, and, having no room in my pockets, walked off with a 
roll under each arm, and eating the other. Thus I went up Market 
Street as far as Fourth Street, passing by the door of Mr. Read, my 
future wife’s father; when she, standing at the door, saw me, and 
thought I made, as I certainly did, a most awkward, ridiculous 
appearance. Then I turned and went down Chestnut Street and 

40 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

part of Walnut Street, eating my roll all the way; and, coming 
round, found myself again at Market Street wharf, near the boat I 
came in, to which I went for a draught of the river water; and, 
being filled with one of my rolls, gave the other two to a woman 
and her child that came down the river in the boat with us, and 
were waiting to go farther.” 

He saw many “clean-dressed people” in the street all walking 
the same way and followed them to and into the Quaker meeting 
house near the market. In the Quaker silence he fell asleep till the 
meeting was over. “This was, therefore, the first house I was in, or 
slept in, in Philadelphia.” Again in the street he met “a young 
Quaker man, whose countenance I liked,” and asked him how to 
find lodgings. The young Quaker advised him against the Three 
Mariners, as not quite reputable, and took him to the Crooked 
Billet in Water Street. “Here I got a dinner; and, while I was 
eating it, several sly questions were asked me, as it seemed to be 
suspected from my youth and appearance that I might be some 
runaway.” He slept all afternoon without undressing, had to be 
called to supper, went back to bed, and slept all night. Early the 
next day “I made myself as tidy as I could and went to Andrew 
Bradford the printer’s.” 

Not only Andrew Bradford welcomed the boy but also Brad- 
ford’s father, who had, it turned out, come from New York to 
Philadelphia on horseback. The three printers had breakfast to- 
gether. Andrew Bradford had already hired a journeyman in place 
of the dead Aquila Rose, but he told Franklin there was another 
printer who had just opened a shop in town and might employ 
him. If not, he might lodge at Bradford’s house and do odd jobs 
till something better came along. William Bradford went with 
Franklin to introduce him to the rival printer, Samuel Keimer. 
Keimer put a composing stick in Franklin’s hand, watched him 
work a few minutes, and said that though he then had nothing for 
the boy to do, he would soon have. Not knowing who William 
Bradford was, Keimer boasted of his prospects, and the old man 
drew him out with artful questions. “I, who stood by and heard 
all, saw immediately that one of them was a crafty old sophister, 
and the other a mere novice.”® 

Franklin from the first had a poor opinion of both Andrew 

CHAPTER 3 Keimer's Journeyman 41 

Bradford, who seemed illiterate, and Keimer, who seemed eccem 
trie and foolish. The young expert from Boston looked over 
Keimer’s shop, the one “worn-out font of English,” and the lame 
press which he had not yet used. Having done what could be done 
to put the press in order, and promising to come back later to help 
with the elegy on Aquila Rose which Keimer was composing direct 
from type, Franklin returned to Bradford’s house for a few days 
and the work that Bradford could find for him. When Keimer had 
finished his elegy and had a pamphlet to reprint, he employed all 
Franklin’s time. Not liking his journeyman to live in his rival’s 
house, and having no furniture in his own, Keimer got lodgings 
for the future husband of Deborah Read in Deborah’s father’s 

This first winter in Philadelphia Franklin enjoyed a freedom 
he had never felt before. Here he had no father to admonish and 
no brother to bully him. In Boston he had been an apprentice, a 
boy whom everybody knew and took for granted. In Philadelphia 
he was a skilled workman with his own money in his pocket. Being 
a stranger, he was something of a novelty. Coming from Boston, 
the largest city in the colonies, he was something of a notability 
among “the young people of the town, that were lovers of reading, 
with whom I spent my evenings very pleasantly.”*^ There were 
sober Quakers in Philadelphia as there had been strict Puritans in 
Boston, but in both the young were still young. Philadelphia had 
not been founded by persecuting men and had no long tradition 
of theocracy. In the more tolerant town Franklin relaxed and ex- 
panded. If he read as hard as he had done for years, he does not 
say so. About Boston he speaks chiefly of his studies. About Phila- 
delphia he speaks chiefly of his friends. And while he was charm- 
ing them he was impressing them by his hard work and cool head. 

He forgot Boston as much as he could and sent word of his 
whereabouts only to his friend Collins. But Franklin’s brother-in- 
law Robert Holmes, master of a sloop that traded between Boston 
and Delaware, heard at New Castle that Benjamin was in Phila- 
delphia and wrote to tell him how much his family and friends 
were concerned for him, and to urge him to go home again. 
Benjamin answered with a full account of his reasons for leaving 
Boston and for remaining where he was. It happened that Captain 

42 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

Holmes, when the letter reached him, was in the company of the 
governor of Pennsylvania, Sir William Keith The captain told 
the governor about the runaway and showed him the letter, which 
impressed him. He made large ofl&cial promises to encourage and 
favour a young man who wrote so well. Let him set up a shop in 
Philadelphia and he could be printer to the government. 

“This my brother-in-law afterwards told me in Boston, but I 
knew as yet nothing of it, when, one day, Keimer and I being at 
work together near the window, we saw the governor and another 
gentleman (which proved to be Colonel French, of New Castle), 
finely dressed, come directly across the street to our house, and 
heard them at the door. Keimer ran down immediately, thinking 
it a visit to him; but the governor inquired for me, came up, and 
with a condescension and politeness I had been quite unused to, 
made me many compliments, desired to be acquainted with me, 
blamed me kindly for not having made myself known to him 
when I first came to the place, and would have me away with him 
to the tavern, where he was going with Colonel French to taste, as 
he said, some excellent Madeira. I was not a little surprised, and 
Keimer stared like a pig poisoned.”® 

In the tavern the governor expounded his plans and offered to 
use his influence, as the colonel did too, to see that the proposed 
new shop should get the public printing for both Pennsylvania 
and Delaware. If Franklin had not enough capital to begin the 
business, as he had not, he might borrow it from his father. The 
governor would give him a letter which no doubt would persuade 
Josiah Franklin, and the son must leave for Boston by the next 
boat. In the meantime the matter must be kept a secret. So with a 
handsome air of patronage the placeman, who was on the whole a 
good governor, aristocratically, irresponsibly interfered with a life 
and started a genius on a new step of his career. The governor 
probably meant no harm. More likely he meant nothing much. 
He was a busybody in a provincial post and he had found a clever 
journeyman who was as good as a curiosity. 

About the end of April 1724 Franklin sailed for Boston and 
arrived there, after “a blustering time at sea,” an impenitent prodi- 
gal The first surprise and welcome of the family over, he went to 
his brother’s printing-house. “I was better dressed than ever while 

CHAPTER 3 The Runaway* s Return 43 

in his service, having a genteel new suit from head to foot, a watch, 
and my pockets lined with near five pounds sterling in silver. He 
received me not very frankly, looked me all over, and turned to 
his work again.” Benjamin bragged to the journeymen about 
Philadelphia and his good luck. *‘One of them was asking what 
kind of money we had there, I produced a handful of silver and 
spread it before them, which was a kind of raree-show they had not 
been used to, paper being the money in Boston. Then I took an 
opportunity of letting them see my watch; and lastly (my brother 
still grum and silent), I gave them a piece of eight to drink, and 
took my leave.” James Franklin told their mother that Benjamin 
“had insulted him in such a manner before his people that he 
could never forget or forgive it. In this, however, he was mis' 

Benjamin might ruffle his brother, but he could not persuade his 
father, who, when he had read the governor’s sanguine words, 
thought him a man of little sense. Josiah Franklin wrote politely 
to Sir William, thanking him for his offer of patronage but saying 
he believed his son to be too young for so important and expensive 
a venture. The father still hoped that Benjamin might make peace 
with James. When he saw that this was hopeless for the present, 
he agreed to let the younger son go back to Philadelphia. Josiah 
Franklin, though he could not approve of Governor Keith’s plans, 
was proud that his son had pleased a man of note in Pennsylvania, 
and “advised me to behave respectfully to the people there, 
endeavour to gain the general esteem, and avoid lampooning and 
libelling, to which he thought I had too much inclination; telling 
me that by steady industry and a prudent parsimony I might save 
enough by the time I was twenty-one to set me up; and that, if I 
came near the matter, he would help me out with the rest.”"^ 

Other men in Boston had advice to give, and Cotton Mather 
did not hold the C our ant against the young man who called on 
him. “He received me in his library and, on my taking leave, 
showed me a shorter way out of the house through a narrow pas- 
sage, which was crossed by a beam overhead. We were still talking 
as I withdrew, he accompanying me behind, when he said hastily: 
‘Stoop, stoopF I did not understand him, till I felt my head 
hit against the beam. He was a man that never missed any occasion 

44 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

of giving instruction, and upon this he said to me: 'You are young, 
and have the world before you; stoop as you go through it, and you 
will miss many hard bumps.’ Franklin w’-as not too young to 
reflect on the dangers of carrying a head too high. 


The second journey to Philadelphia was neither lonely nor 
stealthy. Collins, a clerk in the Boston post office, had decided to 
emigrate to the new country where his friend was prospering. He 
went ahead and was to join Franklin at New York. At Newport 
Benjamin stopped to visit his brother John, who "received me 
very affectionately, for he always loved me.”^ A friend of John 
Franklin, a man named Vernon, to whom somebody in Pennsyl- 
vania owed a debt of thirty-five pounds, asked the visitor to collect 
and keep it till he should be told how to remit it. Between Newport 
and New York Franklin flirted with two girls on board till a 
sensible Quaker matron warned him that they were bad. "When 
we arrived at New York they told me where they lived and invited 
me to come to see them; but I avoided it, and it was well I did; for 
the next day the captain missed a silver spoon and some other 
things that had been taken out of his cabin, and, knowing that 
these were a couple of strumpets, he got a warrant to search their 
lodgings, found the stolen goods, and had the thieves punished.”^^ 

Franklin had not, he says, guessed the character of the girls until 
the Quaker matron warned him, and then he did not at first think 
she could be right about them. He was at eighteen less read in 
women than in books. Books now brought him to the attention of 
another great man. William Burnet, governor of New York and 
New Jersey, son of Gilbert Burnet the historian and bishop, heard 
from the captain of the sloop that one of his passengers had many 
books with him — they were Franklin’s and Collins’s. Such luxuries 
were then so rare that a few would seem many to a ship captain and 
remarkable to a governor. Burnet sent for Franklin, showed him 
his own large library, and had a long talk with him about books 
and authors. "This was the second governor who had done me 


CHAPTER 3 The End of a Friendship 

the honour to take notice of me; which, to a poor boy like me, 
was very pleasing. 

Collins, who had books too, could not go with Franklin to the 
governor’s, because Collins was drunk, and had been every day since 
he got to New York. Not all young men have Franklin’s head for 
freedom. The sober Franklin had to settle unpaid bills, for Collins 
had gambled and lost his savings, and had to meet the cost of 
getting both of them to Philadelphia. He could do this only by 
using some of Vernon’s money which he collected on the way. 
Once they were in Philadelphia, Collins was still a burden. He 
went on ‘‘sotting with brandy,” could not find work because of 
the reputation he soon got, lived at his friend’s expense, and, 
knowing that Franklin had the Vernon money in charge, insisted 
on borrowing from it. Franklin, who felt that he had unsettled 
Collins’s opinions and so was partly responsible for his bad habits, 
was as patient as he could be, but finally they quarrelled. The 
actual quarrel was one of those small aflEairs that are so unexpected 
and so violent when men have been too long at outs, whether they 
have yet admitted it or not. Franklin and his friend, with other 
companions, were in a boat on the Delaware, and Collins, drunk 
and fractious, refused to take his turn at the oars. Franklin said if 
Collins would not row the others, the others would not row him. 
“So he swore he would make me row, or throw me overboard; and 
coming along, stepping on the thwarts, toward me, when he came 
up and struck at me, I clapped my hand under his crutch and, 
rising, pitched him headforemost into the river. I knew he was a 
good swimmer, and so was under little concern for him; but before 
he could get round to lay hold on the boat, we had with a few 
strokes pulled her out of his reach; and ever when he drew near 
the boat, we asked if he would row, striking a few strokes to slide 
her away from him. He was ready to die for vexation, and obsti- 
nately would not promise to row. However, seeing him at last 
beginning to tire, we lifted him and brought him home dripping 
wet in the evening. We hardly exchanged a civil word after- 
wards.’'^^ Collins left for Barbados, promising to repay what he 
lad borrowed, but Franklin never heard of him again. 

This was the end of his first boyish friendship. He was changing 

46 Benjamin Franklin philadelphu 

from his single-minded Boston mode of life to one more daring 
and more confusing. Troubled by the knowledge that he had spent 
part of Vernon’s money and might be called upon at any time to 
produce the whole of it, he was excited by the prospects that 
Governor Keith held out to him. If Josiah Franklin would not 
furnish the necessary capital, Sir William would do it himself. 
The printer had only to furnish an inventory of the stock that a 
good shop would require. Of course the thing must still be a 
secret between them. Franklin, without a confidant, had no chance 
to find out from others how liberal Keith could be with promises, 
and so trusted him completely. The stock would cost about a 
hundred pounds, the young man calculated. At once the governor 
had another plan. Let Franklin go to London to make his own 
selections and, perhaps, useful friendships among booksellers and 
stationers. No sooner thought about than decided upon. The 
governor told him to get ready to sail on the annual ship between 
Philadelphia and London which left that fall. 

During the restless summer of 1724 Franklin “made some court- 
ship” to Deborah Read. ''I had a great respect and affection for 
her, and had some reason to believe she had the same for me’T^ 
so he remembered it when he was sixty-five. At eighteen, though 
his blood ran warmer, he seems to have raised no tumult over his 
love. That was for poets and men of leisure. For a tradesman mar- 
riage was a graver bargain. Deborah’s mother — her father John 
Read died in September — thought the lovers too young to be 
married now, when Franklin was about to set out on a long 
voyage. If there was to be a marriage, it would be “more conven- 
ient” after he came back. The lovers consented, and may have been 

Day after day in the shop Franklin amused himself by baiting 
Keimer, who in London had belonged to a noisy sect called the 
French Prophets and who was still full of old enthusiasms. He 
kept Saturday as the Sabbath and refused to trim his tremendous 
beard. Franklin played Socrates with him, and “trepanned him so 
often by questions apparently so distant from any point we had in 
hand, and yet by degrees led to the point and brought him into 
difficulties and contradictions, that at last he grew ridiculously 
cautious.”^^ But he had to admire such skill in debate, and he 


Four Poets 


proposed that they set up a new sect, he to preach the doctrines 
and Franklin to defend them against arguing opponents. The 
young unbeliever said he would accept Keimer’s Saturdays and 
beards if Keimer, a glutton, would accept a vegetarian diet as a 
third tenet of their sect. ‘1 promised myself some diversion in 
half starving him.'* For three months they tried the experiment 
together. Franklin, used to it and liking to save money, enjoyed 
his joke. “Keimer suffered grievously, tired of the project, longed 
for the flesh-pots of Egypt, and ordered a roast pig. He invited me 
and two women friends to dine with him; but, it being brought 
too soon upon table, he could not resist the temptation, and ate 
the whole before we came.”^^ 

Evening after evening the journeyman spent with his friends 
Charles Osborne, Joseph Watson, and James Ralph, who, like 
Keimer, are remembered chiefly or only because Franklin remem- 
bered them. All three of them were clerks. Watson was pious, the 
others more lax. Osborne was “sincere and affectionate to his 
friends, but, in literary matters, too fond of criticizing. Ralph was 
ingenious, genteel in his manners, and extremely eloquent; I 
think I never knew a prettier talker. Both of them" — Osborne and 
Ralph — “great admirers of poetry, and began to try their hands in 
little pieces. Many pleasant walks we four had together on Sundays 
into the woods, near Schuylkill, where we read to one another, and 
conferred on what we read."^® Ralph was determined to go on 
being a poet and to make his fortune by it. Osborne assured him 
he had no genius and had better stick to business. “I approved the 
amusing one's self with poetry now and then, so far as to improve 
one's language, but no farther."^’^ 

Unable to agree in principle, they determined to test their 
actual gifts. All four at the next meeting would bring poems they 
had written, versions of the eighteenth Psalm, and compare them. 
Franklin was little interested and wrote nothing, but he read 
Ralph's version in advance and thought it had real merit. Ralph 
asked him to read it to the others as his own, because Osborne waa 
not jealous of him and would be fairer to the poem if he did not 
think it Ralph's. “We met; Watson's performance was read; there 
were some beauties in it, but many defects. Osborne's was read; it 
was much better; Ralph did it justice; remarked some faults but 

48 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

applauded the beauties. He himself had nothing lo produce. I 
was backward; seemed desirous of being excused; had not had 
suihcient time to correct, etc.; but no excuse could be admitted; 
produce I must. It was read and repeated; Watson and Osborne 
gave up the contest, and joined in applauding it. Ralph only made 
some criticisms and proposed some amendments, but I defended 
my text. Osborne was against Ralph, and told him he was no 
better a critic than poet, so he dropped the argument. As they two 
went home together, Osborne expressed himself still more strongly 
in favour of what he thought my production; having restrained 
himself before, as he said, lest I should think it flattery. ‘But who 
would have imagined,’ said he, ‘that Franklin had been capable of 
such a performance; such painting, such force, such fire! In his 
common conversation he seems to have no choice of words; he 
hesitates and blunders; and yet, good God, how he writes!’ When 
we next met, Ralph discovered the trick we had played him, and 
Osborne was a little laughed at.”^® 

Ralph now finally resolved to be a poet. Franklin, who that 
summer was prudent about love, sly about laughter, and reason- 
able about poetry, put his passion into his ambition. He still had 
faith in the governor, who when in November the ship was ready 
to sail had not yet furnished him the letters of introduction and 
credit he had promised. Sir William, his secretary said, would be 
at New Castle before the ship and deliver the letters there. Frank- 
lin took leave of his friends and of Deborah, with whom he “inter- 
changed some promises,’’ and boarded the London Hope at Phila- 
delphia. Ralph, who had left behind him a wife and a child a few 
months old, was with him. At New Castle there was a governor 
but no letters. Sir William, his secretary said, was busy, but the 
letters would be sent directly to the ship. Franklin was puzzled but 
still not suspicious. As if to reassure him. Colonel French came on 
board and paid the printer so much attention that he and Ralph, 
who had been assigned to the steerage as ordinary persons, were 
invited by the other gentlemen to come into the great cabin. 
Franklin supposed that Colonel French had brought the gov- 
ernor’s letters. The captain of the ship said that all the mail was 
in the bag and was hard to get at but that any letters marked in 
Franklin’s care would be given to him before they reached Eng- 


Stranded in London 


land. Though they had bad weather, the young men got on pleas- 
antly with the two iron-masters and the Quaker merchant in the 
cabin. Thomas Denham the merchant took a special fancy to 
Franklin. They reached London the day before Christmas. 

There were no letters from the governor. Franklin, going to 
Denham in his trouble, learned how undependable Keith w^as. ‘'He 
wished to please everybody; and, having little to give, he gave 
expectations.”^^ A victim of this gesturing habit, Franklin found 
himself stranded in London, with no friends, and with only fifteen 
pistoles (about twelve pounds) in money. But he had a trade and 
he at once found work at Samuel Palmer’s printing-house in 
Bartholomew Close. 


As he had had Collins from Boston on his hands in Philadelphia^ 
so now he had Ralph from Philadelphia on his hands in London, 
Strong and stable young men often attract their looser friends, and 
are attracted to them. While Frankhn felt that he had unsettled 
Ralph’s opinions too, though Ralph was at least ten years older, 
and had some responsibility for him, as for Collins, at the same 
time the printer had a wayward strain in his constitution and more 
than a little sympathy with the poet. “Ralph and I were insep- 
arable companions. We took lodgings together in Little Britain at 
three shillings and sixpence a week — ^as much as ^we could then 
afford. ... I was pretty diligent, but spent with Ralph a great 
deal of my earnings in going to plays and other places of amuse- 
ment.”^^ Ralph had no money, and borrowed steadily from the 
stock of pistoles till they were gone, and longer. He thought he 
would be an actor, but was told he lacked talent. He wanted to 
write a weekly paper like the Spectator , but could not find a pub- 
lisher. He was willing to be a copyist for stationers and lawyers, 
but there was no vacancy. His only success was with a milliner who 
lived in the same house with the two friends. “She had been gen- 
teelly bred, was sensible and lively, and of most pleasing conversa- 
tion. Ralph read plays to her in the evening, they grew intimate- 
she took another lodging, and he followed her.”^^ As she already 

50 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

had a child and could not support the three of them, he went to 
Berkshire after a few months and became a schoolmaster. Since he 
thought this calling beneath him, and wjas afraid it might some 
day be remembered against him when he was famous, he used the 
obscure name of Franklin as a precautionary disguise. 

Soon after they arrived in London, Ralph had said he did not 
intend to go back to his wife and child in Philadelphia, and 
Franklin, either in imitation or out of a similar urge to freedom, 
had written to Deborah Read — ^his one letter to her while he was 
abroad — that he was not likely to return soon. Up to this time 
there is no hint of any amatory ventures in his life, except for the 
two strumpets he flirted with on the sloop from Newport to New 
York and, possibly, the women with whom he and Keimer dined 
in Philadelphia. Now in London he grew bolder. Ralph’s milliner, 
“having on his account lost her friends and business, was often in 
distresses, and used to send for me and borrow what I could spare 
to help her out of them. I grew fond of her company, and, being 
at that time under no religious restraint and presuming upon my 
importance to her, I attempted familiarities (another erratum) 
which she repulsed with a proper resentment, and acquainted him 
with my behaviour.”^^ Ralph ceased to be a friend, and held that 
Franklin’s conduct wiped out the debt, then twenty-seven pounds. 
Franklin, for all his economy, was generous. He had let Ralph 
have at least a third of his own year’s income. But, with whatever 
sense of guilt, Franklin had the comfort of reflecting that Ralph 
had no money to pay and that the end of the friendship was the 
end of a burden. Their ways parted. Ralph wrote poems “till Pope 
cured him,” as Franklin says, with a couplet in The Dunciadj^^ 
revised plays which had short runs, produced in his ballad-opera 
The Fashionable Lady (1730) the first play by an American to 
reach the London stage, was friend and assistant to Henry Fielding 
at the Little Theatre and in The Champion, and finally became 
an able political writer who helped Franklin, now forgiven, on one 
of his undertakings years later. 

Franklin, accustomed only to small, provincial, transatlantic 
towns, lived for a year and a half in the capital of his world in one 
of its brilliant ages. At peace with France, England had grown 
rich and was growing richer. The Hanoverian succession was estab- 


Franklin* s Firil Book 


lished, though the Old Pretender plotted futilely in Rome. Men 
o£ trade and money challenged the power of the landowning aris- 
tocracy. Walpole, canny and corrupt, held the reins of many offices. 
It was an age of luxury, fashion, and wit. The elegant Stanhope 
became Lord Chesterfield while Franklin was in London, and 
Voltaire took refuge there from his enemies in Paris. It was an 
age of intellect. Newton towered over British science. Bentley, 
England’s- greatest classical scholar, wrangled at Cambridge. 
Hogarth had set up on his own account and had published his 
first engraving. Fielding, fresh from Eton, was having his fling in 
London, where Samuel Richardson was a rising printer. Jonathan 
Wild was hanged in 1725, and Defoe, Grub Street’s genius, wrote 
the rascal’s life. Swift in 1726 came back for the first time from his 
Irish exile. He and Pope and Gay put their heads together in the 
war against dullness which they carried out in Gulliver’s Travels, 
The Dunciady and Fables. 

It was a brilliant age — and Franklin was little closer to it at first 
hand than if he had been in Boston or Philadelphia. He read and 
heard of great men, barely saw or talked with them. But the 
unknown journeyman made friends any way he could. Setting type, 
at Palmer’s, for William Wollaston’s earnest treatise The Religion 
of Nature Delineated, the printer disagreed with the writer and 
composed A Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity^ Pleasure and 
Pain which he printed himself in 1725, apparently during his first 
half-year in London. Wollaston, in answer to the deists, had at- 
tempted to prove with geometrical rigour that even if there had 
never been a divine revelation there would still be support and 
reason in nature itself for all the essential beliefs of orthodox 
religion. Some acts of men, he claimed to prove, are naturally good, 
some naturally bad, some naturally indifferent. Franklin, who at 
fifteen in Boston had been turned to a logical deism by reading the 
arguments against it, now was turned to an indulgent pantheism. 

Since God was all-wise, all-good, all-powerful, and yet permitted 
the world to be what it was, therefore there could be no such things 
as natural virtues and vices. Men had no free-will, did what they 
must, and could not be blamed or praised for their behaviour. 
What moved them to action was the desire to avoid pain and 
experience pleasure. *1 might here observe, how necessary a thing 

52 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

in the order and design of the universe this pain or unea'siness is, 
and how beautiful in its place! Let us but suppose it just now ban- 
ished the world entirely, and consider the consequence of it: all 
the animal creation would immediately stand stock-still, exactly m 
the posture they were in the moment uneasiness departed: not a 
limb, not a finger would henceforth move; we should all be re- 
duced to the condition of statues, dull and unactive; here I should 
continue to sit motionless with the pen in my hand thus — and 
neither leave my seat nor write one letter more/’ But pleasure and 
pain were exactly equal to one another. “The monarch is not more 
happy than the slave, nor the beggar more miserable than Croesus. 
Suppose A, B, and C three distinct beings: A and B animate, 
capable of pleasure and pain, C an inanimate piece of matter, 
insensible of either. A receives ten degrees of pain, which are neces- 
sarily succeeded by ten degrees of pleasure; B receives fifteen of 
pain, and the consequent equal number of pleasure; C all the 
while lies unconcerned, and as he has not suffered the former, has 
no right to tlie latter. What can be more equal and more just than 
this?” Since there is no inequality of pain and pleasure in this life, 
there is no need to imagine another, better life to' come. Even 
though the immaterial soul should somehow persist, it “must then 
necessarily cease to think or act, having nothing left to think or 
act upon. . . . And to cease to think is but little different from 
ceasing to be.”^^ 

“The order and course of things will not be affected by reason^ 
ing of this kind,”^^ Franklin broke off to say in the middle of his 
demonstration. He did not value metaphysics. He was a young 
Bostonian trying to find reasons for doing as he liked in London. 
If there were no such things as right and wrong, and no eternal 
rewards or punishments, what he might do would not matter. He 
could make himself as free as Ralph already was. The pamphlet 
was dedicated to Ralph. But the order and course of Franklin’s 
own life cannot have been much affected. He worked hard for 
long hours every day. He read books from the bookseller’s next 
door to the house in Little Britain. He was too temperate to drink, 
too economical to gamble. Since the more splendid vices were out 
of his reach, “foolish intrirues with low women”^^ must have been 

CHAPTER 3 Wits and ScientiUs 53 

his only dissipations. And it is not certain, though it is likely, that 
they began in London. 

His employer thought Franklin’s principles abominable, but he 
could not help noticing a journeyman who could and would write 
a book. Franklin printed a hundred copies, gave a few of them to 
friends, and later burned the rest, ‘'conceiving it might have an ill 
tendency. One copy reached a surgeon named William Lyons, 
who often called on Franklin to talk with him, and who introduced 
him to men of similar opinions. At the Horns, an alehouse in 
Cheapside, he met Bernard Mandeville, author of The Fable of 
the Bees, “who had a club there, of which he was the soul, being a 
most facetious, entertaining companion. Lyons, too, introduced 
me to Dr, [Henry] Pemberton, at Batson s coffee house, who prom- 
ised to give me an opportunity, some time or other, of seeing Sir 
Isaac Newton, of which I was extremely desirous; but this never 

By his initiative Franklin met Sir Hans Sloane, xvho had 
been secretary of the Royal Society and after Newton’s death was 
to become president. To him Franklin wrote the earliest of his 
surviving letters, on 2 June 1725. “Sir: Having lately been in the 
no[r]thern parts of America, I have brought from thence a purse 
made of the stone asbestos, a piece of the stone, and a piece of 
wood, the pithy part of which is of the same nature, and called by 
the inhabitants salamander cotton. As you are noted to be a lover 
of curiosities, I have informed you of these; and if you have any 
inclination to purchase them, or see ’em, let me know your pleasure 
by a line directed for me at the Golden Fan in Little Britain, and 
I will wait upon you with them.” He added what was perhaps a 
strategic postscript: “I expect to be out of town in two or three 
days, and therefore beg an immediate answer.”^^ Sloane called on 
Franklin, invited him to Bloomsbury Square to see his treasures, 
and bought the North American curiosities. 

Late in 1725 Franklin, now rid of Ralph, left Palmer’s for James 
Watts’s larger printing-house in Wild’s Court near Lincoln’s 
Inn Fields. Here, though there were nearly fifty printers, he was 
soon distinguished by his strength and speed. The others carried 
one large form of types up and down the stairs; he carried two. 

54 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

“They wondered to see, from this and several instances, that the 
‘Water American’ as they called me, was stronger than themselves, 
who drank strong beer. We had an alehouse boy who attended 
always in the house to supply the workmen. My companion at the 
press drank every day a pint before breakfast, a pint at breakfast 
with his bread and cheese, a pint between breakfast and dinner, a 
pint at dinner, a pint in the afternoon about six o’clock, and 
another when he had done his day’s work. I thought it a detestable 
custom,”^® There was no more strength in a quart of beer, Franklin 
argued, than in a pennyworth of bread. Let his companion eat 
that and save his money. 

The pressmen, among whom Franklin first worked at Watts’s 
because he wanted exercise, kept on drinking, and he w^as trans- 
ferred to the composing room. There the compositors demanded 
that he pay a kind of initiation fee of five shillings for liquor for 
all of them. He had already paid for his welcome by the pressmen, 
and refused to pay again. Though he held out two or three weeks, 
he suffered from so many “little pieces of private mischief” that he 
yielded, “convinced of the folly of being on ill terms with those one 
is to live with continually.”®^ At once he became popular and 
influential. “From my example a great part of them left their mud- 
dling breakfast of beer and bread and cheese, finding they could 
with me be supplied from a neighbouring house with a large 
porringer of hot-water gruel, sprinkled with pepper, crumbed with 
bread, and a bit of butter in it, for the price of a pint of beer, viz., 
three halfpence. This was a more comfortable as well as cheaper 
breakfast, and kept their heads clearer.”®^ Some of them continued 
to drink beer, exhausted their credit at the alehouse before the 
end of the week, and had to depend on Franklin. He claimed what 
was due him every Saturday night, sometimes as high as thirty 
shillings, his week’s wages. This impressed them, and they enjoyed 
his satirical tongue. His master, because Franklin was always at 
work, never late on Monday, and very fast, gave him special jobs 
and often special pay. 

He left his lodgings in Little Britain for a house in Duke Street. 
His landlady “was a widow, an elderly woman; had been bred a 
Protestant, being a clergyman’s daughter, but was converted to the 
Catholic religion by her husband, whose memory she much 

CHAPTER 3 Swimming 66 

revered; had lived much among people o£ distinction, and knew a 
thousand anecdotes of them as far back as the times of Charles the 
Second. She was lame in her knees with the gout, and therefore 
seldom stirred out of her room, so she sometimes wanted company; 
and she was so highly amusing that I was sure to spend an evening 
with her whenever she desired it. Our supper was only half an 
anchovy each, on a very little strip of bread and butter, and half a 
pint of ale between us; but the entertainment was in her conversa- 
tion.'’^^ When he heard of lodgings nearer his work for two shil- 
lings a week, instead of the three and six he paid her, she let him 
stay for one and six, and he did not scruple to accept her offer. He 
was saving money to take him back to Philadelphia. 

He made friends at the printing-house with a young man named 
Wygate, who was better educated than most printers. Franklin 
taught him and a friend of his to swim '‘at twice going into the 
river.” They introduced him to some gentlemen from the country, 
and all of them went one day by water to Chelsea, in the late spring 
or early summer of 1726. “In our return, at the request of the 
company, whose curiosity Wygate had excited, I stripped and 
leaped into the river, and swam from near Chelsea to Blackfriars, 
performing on the way many feats of activity, both upon and under 
water, that surprised and pleased those to whom they were novel- 
ties. I had from a child been ever delighted with this exercise, had 
studied and practised all Thevenot’s motions and positions, added 
some of my own, aiming at the graceful and easy as well as the 
useful. All these I took occasion of exhibiting to the company, and 
was much flattered by their admiration.”^^ Sir William Wyndham, 
friend of Swift and Bolingbroke, heard of the feat, sent for 
Franklin, and asked him to teach Wyndham’s two young sons to 
swim. Wygate, drawn to Franklin by his skill in the water as well 
as by his intellectual interests, proposed that they travel through- 
out Europe as journeymen printers. Both schemes tempted Frank- 
lin, but he had grown tired of London and remembered Pennsyl- 
vania. And now Denham, the merchant with whom he had crossed 
the Atlantic, suggested how he might return. 

Denham, who had already made one fortune in America, in- 
tended to make another, by starting a store in Philadelphia. 
Franklin could be his clerk at fifty pounds a year, and, as soon as 

56 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

he learned the business, could go with a shipload of goods to the 
West Indies and earn handsome commissions. Though this meant 
that Franklin would have to give up, as he then thought, the trade 
in which he was expert, and to work at first for lower wages than 
a London compositor’s, it also meant better prospects. He immedi- 
ately agreed, and Denham advanced him ten pounds for his pas- 
sage home. They sailed from Gravesend on the Berkshire 23 July 


(So far in this history, Franklin, speaking of himself in his own 
words, has almost always spoken in the words of the Autobiography 
which he wrote forty-five years after the departure from Gravesend, 
when he was sage and famous, and writing for his son, the governor 
of New Jersey. Perhaps then he tempered the account of his youth, 
saw his course as straighter than it was, left out or had forgotten 
his ranker appetites, remembered too clearly the mind and will 
which had outlasted the lost years. But now he speaks as he wrote 
at twenty in the journal he kept of his summer voyage.®®) 

"Friday, July 22, iy26 . — Yesterday in the afternoon we left 
London and came to anchor off Gravesend about eleven at night. 
I lay ashore all night, and this morning took a walk up to the 
Windmill Hill, from which I had an agreeable prospect of the 
country for above twenty miles round, and two or three reaches of 
the river, with ships and boats sailing both up and down, and 
Tilbury Fort on the other side, which commands the river and 
passage to London. This Gravesend is a cursed biting place; the 
chief dependence of the people being the advantage they make of 
imposing upon strangers. If you buy anything of them, and give 
half what they ask, you pay twice as much as the thing is worth. 
Thank God, we shall leave it tomorrow. 

"Saturday, July 23. — This day we weighed anchor and fell down 
with the tide, there being little or no wind. In the afternoon we 
had a fresh gale that brought us down to Margate, where we shall 
lie at anchor this night. Most of the passengers are very sick. Saw 
several porpoises, etc. 

CHAPTER 3 Voyage Home 51 

''Sunday^ July 24 , — This morning we weighed anchor, and 
coming to the Downs, we set our pilot ashore at Deal, and passed 
through. And now, whilst I write this, sitting upon the quarter- 
deck, I have methinks one o£ the pleasantest scenes in the world 
before me. 'Tis a fine, clear day, and we are going away before the 
wind with an easy, pleasant gale. We have near fifteen sail of ships 
in sight, and I may say in company. On the left hand appears the 
coast of France at a distance, and on the right is the town and castle 
of Dover, with the green hills and chalky cliffs of England, to 
which we must now bid farewell. Albion, farewell!*' 

Fitful winds brought them on Wednesday to Spithead, where 
Denham and Franklin went ashore. Franklin, describing Ports- 
mouth, commented on stories he had heard of a former lieutenant- 
governor. “It is a common maxim that without severe discipline 
’tis impossible to govern the licentious rabble of soldiery. I own, 
indeed, that if a commander finds he has not those qualities in 
him that will make him beloved by his people, he ought by all 
means to make use of such methods as will make them fear him, 
since one or the other (or both) is absolutely necessary; but 
Alexander and Caesar, those renowned generals, received more 
faithful service, and performed greater actions, by means of the 
love their soldiers bore them, than they could possibly have done 
if, instead of being beloved and respected, they had been hated 
and feared by those they commanded." 

From Cowes the ship was to sail early Friday morning, but the 
wind was adverse, and Franklin with other restless or curious 
passengers went ashore to see Newport, the “metropolis" of the 
Isle of Wight, and Carisbrooke Castle, “which King Charles the 
First was confined in." About Charles and his fate Franklin said 
nothing. His eyes were for living sights. “I think Newport is chiefly 
remarkable for oysters, which they send to London and other 
places, where they are very much esteemed, being thought the 
best in England. The oyster merchants fetch them, as I am in- 
formed, from other places, and lay them upon certain beds in the 
river (the water of which is it seems excellently adapted for that 
purpose) a-fattening; and when they have lain a suitable time they 
are taken up again, and made fit for sale." 

Franklin noticed that the monuments on the island were all cut 

58 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

from soft stone and that the inscriptions were none of them legible. 
At the castle: “The floors are several of them of plaster of Paris, 
the art of making which, the woman told us, was now lost. . . . 
There are several breaches in the ruinous walls, which are never 
repaired (I suppose they are purposely neglected). . . . There is 
a well in the middle of the Coop which they called the bottomless 
well, because of its great depth; but it is now half filled up with 
stones and rubbish, and is covered with two or three loose planks; 
yet a stone, as we tried, is near a quarter of a minute in falling 
before you hear it strike. But the well that supplies the inhabitants 
at present with water is in the lower castle, and is thirty fathoms 
deep. They draw their water with a great wheel, and with a bucket 
that holds near a barrel. It makes a great sound if you speak in it, 
and echoed the flute which we played over it very sweetly. 

The young realist was a moralist. When he was told of a former 
governor of the island who had seemed a saint and yet turned out 
to be a villain: “What surprised me was that the silly old fellow, 
the keeper of the castle, who remembered him governor, should 
have so true a notion of his character as I perceived he had. In 
short, I believe it is impossible for a man, though he has all the 
cunning of a devil, to live and die a villain, and yet conceal it so 
well as to carry the name of an honest fellow to his grave with 
him, but some one, by some accident or other, shall discover him. 
Truth and sincerity have a certain distinguishing native lustre 
about them which cannot be perfectly counterfeited; they are like 
fire and flame, that cannot be painted.” 

The young moralist reflected about everything, even about the 
game of draughts (checkers) which he played all that Friday 
afternoon after they had come back to the ship. “It is a game 1 
much delight in; but it requires a clear head, and undisturbed; 
and the persons playing, if they would play well, ought not much 
to regard the consequence of the game, for that diverts and with- 
draws the attention of the mind from the game itself, and makes 
the player liable to make many false moves; and I will venture to 
lay it down for an infallible rule, that if two persons equal in 
judgment play for a considerable sum, he that loves money most 
shall lose; his anxiety for the success of the game confounds him. 
Courage is almost as requisite for the good conduct of this game as 


An Adventure Ashore 


in a real battle; for if the player imagines himself opposed by one 
that is much his superior in skill, his mind is so intent on the 
defensive part that an advantage passes unobserved.” 

Saturday the ship got as far as Yarmouth, still on the Isle of 
Wight, and several passengers went ashore to dine. All but three 
of them sat drinking after dinner. The three, including Franklin, 
went further inland, headed a creek and came down on the other 
side, and at dark found themselves cut ofiE from Yarmouth by the 
stream. ”We were told that it was our best way to go straight down 
to the mouth of the creek, and that there was a ferry boy that 
would carry us over to the town. But when we came to the house 
the lazy whelp was in bed and refused to rise and put us over; 
upon which we went down to the water-side, with a design to take 
his boat and go over by ourselves. We found it very difficult to get 
the boat, it being fastened to a stake, and the tide risen near fifty 
yards beyond it; I stripped all to my shirt to wade up to it; but 
missing the causeway, which was under water, I got up to my 
middle in mud. At last I came to the stake; but, to my great dis^ 
appointment, found she was locked and chained. I endeavoured 
to draw the staple with one of the thole-pins, but in vain; I tried to 
pull up the stake, but to no purpose; so that, after an hour's fatigue 
and trouble in the wet and mud, I was forced to return without 
the boat. 

'‘We had no money in our pockets, and therefore began to con- 
clude to pass the night in some haystack, though the wind blew 
very cold and very hard. In the midst of these troubles one of us 
recollected that he had a horse-shoe in his pocket, which he found 
in his walk, and asked me if I could not wrench the staple out with 
that. I took it, went, tried, and succeeded, and brought the boat 
ashore to them. Now we rejoiced and all got in, and, when I had 
dressed myself, we put off. But the worst of our troubles was to 
come yet; for, it being high water and the tide over all the banks, 
though It was moonlight we could not discern the channel of the 
creek; but, rowing heedlessly straight forward, when we were got 
about half-way over, we found ourselves aground on a mud bank; 
and, striving to row her off by putting our oars in the mud, we 
broke one and there stuck fast, not having four inches of water. 
We were now in the utmost perplexity, not knowing what in the 

60 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

world to do; we could not tell whether the tide was rising or fall- 
ing; but at length we plainly perceived it was ebb, and we could 
feel no deeper water within the reach of our oar. 

“It was hard to lie in an open boat all night exposed to the wind 
and weather; but it was worse to think how foolish we should look 
in the morning, when the owner of the boat should catch us in 
that condition, where we must be exposed to the view of all the 
town. After we had strove and struggled for half an hour and more, 
we gave all over, and sat down with our hands before us, despairing 
to get off; for, if the tide had left us, we had been never the nearer; 
we must have sat in the boat, as the mud was too deep for us to 
walk ashore through it, being up to our necks. At last we bethought 
ourselves of some means of escaping, and two of us stripped and 
got out, and, thereby lightening the boat, we drew her upon our 
knees near fifty yards into deeper water; and then with much ado, 
having but one oar, we got safe ashore under the fort; and, having 
dressed ourselves and tied the man’s boat, we went with great joy 
to the Queen’s Head, where w^e left our companions, whom we 
found waiting for us, though it was very late. Our boat being gone 
on board, we were obliged to lie ashore all night; and thus ended 
our walk/’ 

For six days the ship waited for favourable wind at Yarmouth or 
Cowes, and not until 5 August did they get away into the Channel. 
The next day: “In the afternoon I leaped overboard and swam 
round the ship to wash myself.” On the 8th they saw the Lizard, 
and on the gth took their leave of the land. Then for nine days 
there was nothing more remarkable than that “four dolphins fol- 
lowed the ship for some hours; we struck at them with the fizgig, 
but took none. . . . 

'Friday j August ip , — . . . Yesterday, complaints being made 

that Mr. G ^n, one of the passengers, had with a fraudulent 

design marked the cards, a court of justice was called immediately, 
and he was brought to his trial in form. A Dutchman, who could 
speak no English, deposed by his interpreter that, when our mess 
was on shore at Cowes, the prisoner at the bar marked all the court 
cards on the back with a pen. 

'1 have sometimes observed that we are apt to fancy the person 
that cannot speak intelligibly to us, proportionably stupid in 


T'he Cheat 


understanding, and when we speak two or three words of English to 
a foreigner, it is louder than ordinary, as if we thought him deaf 
and that he had lost the use of his ears as well as his tongue. Some- 
thing like this I imagine might be the case of Mr. G ^n; he 

fancied the Dutchman could not see what he was about, because 
he could not understand English, and therefore boldly did it before 
his face. 

“The evidence was plain and positive; the prisoner could not 
deny the fact, but replied in his defence that the cards he marked 
were not those we commonly played with, but an imperfect pack, 
which he afterwards gave to the cabin boy. The attorney-general 
observed to the court that it was not likely he should take pains to 
mark the cards without some ill design, or some further intention 
than just to give them to the boy when he had done, who under- 
stood nothing at all of cards. But another evidence, being called, 
deposed that he saw the prisoner in the main-top one day, when he 
thought himself unobserved, marking a pack of cards on the backs, 
some with the print of a dirty thumb, others with the top of his 
finger, etc. Now, there being but two packs on board, and the 
prisoner having just confessed the marking of one, the court per- 
ceived the case was plain. In fine the jury brought him in guilty, 
and he was condemned to be carried up to the round-top, and made 
fast there in view of the ship’s company during the space of three 
hours, that being the place where the act was committed, and to 
pay a fine of two bottles of brandy. But the prisoner resisting 
authority and refusing to submit to punishment, one of the sailors 
stepped aloft and let down a rope to us, which we with much strug- 
gling made fast about his middle, and hoisted him up into the air, 
sprawling, by main force. We let him hang, cursing and swearing, 
for near a quarter of an hour; but at length, he crying out 'Mur- 
der!’ and looking black in the face, the rope being overtort about 
his middle, we thought proper to let him down again; and our 
mess have excommunicated him till he pays his fine, refusing either 
to play, eat, drink, or converse with him. . . . 

''Thursday, August 25. — Our excommunicated shipmate think- 
ing proper to comply with the sentence the court passed upon him, 
and expressing himself willing to pay the fine, we have this morn- 
ing received him into unity again. Man is a sociable being, and it 

d2 Benjamin Franklin phiiadelphia 

is, for aught I know, one of the worst of punishments to be ex- 
cluded from society. I have read abundance of fine things on the 
subject of solitude, and I know his a common boast in the mouths 
of those that affect to be thought wise, that they are never less alone 
than when alone. I acknowledge solitude an agreeable refreshment 
to a busy mind; but were these thinking people obliged to be al- 
ways alone, I am apt to think they would quickly find their very 
being insupportable to them. . . . One of the philosophers, I 
think it was Plato, used to say that he had rather be the veriest 
stupid block in nature than the possessor of all knowledge without 
some intelligent being to communicate it to. 

“What I have said may in a measure account for some particulars 
in my present way of living here on board. Our company is in gen- 
eral very unsuitably mixed, to keep up the pleasure and spirit of 
conversation; and, if there are one or two pair of us that can some- 
times entertain one another for half an hour agreeably, yet perhaps 
we are seldom in the humour for it together. I rise in the morning 
and read for an hour or two perhaps, and then reading grows tire- 
some. Want of exercise occasions want of appetite, so that eating 
and drinking afford but little pleasure. I tire myself with playing 
at draughts, then I go to cards; nay, there is no play so trifling or 
childish but we fly to it for entertainment. A contrary wind, I 
know not how, puts us all out of good humour; we grow sullen, 
silent, and reserved, and fret at each other upon every little occa- 
sion. ’Tis a common opinion among the ladies that if a man is ill- 
natured he infallibly discovers it when he is in liquor. But I, who 
have known many instances to the contrary, will teach them a more 
effectual method to discover the natural temper and disposition 
of their humble servants. Let the ladies make one long sea voyage 
with them, and if they have the least spark of ill-nature in them 
and conceal it to the end of the voyage, I will forfeit all my pre- 
tensions to their favour.*' 

For the rest of the voyage, as if he had learned whatever there 
was to know about his human companions, Franklin gave more 
attention in his journal to nature than to man. 

'^Tuesday, August 50. — Contrary wind still. This evening, the 
moon being near full as she rose after eight o'clock, there appeared 

CHAPTER 3 Dolphins and a Shark 6S 

a rainbow in a western cloud, to windward o£ us. The first time I 
ever saw a rainbow in the night, caused by the moon. . . . 

''Friday^ Sept[ember] 2 , — This morning the wind changed; a 
little fair. We caught a couple of dolphins and fried them for 
dinner. They eat indifferent well. These fish make a glorious 
appearance in the water; their bodies are of a bright green, mixed 
with a silver colour, and their tails of a shining golden yelloxv; but 
all this vanishes presently after they are taken out of their element, 
and they change all over to a light grey. I observed that, cutting off 
pieces of a just-caught, living dolphin for baits, those pieces did 
not lose their lustre and fine colours when the dolphin died, but 
retained them perfectly. Everyone takes notice of that vulgar error 
of the painters, who always represent this fish monstrously crooked 
and deformed, when it is in reality as beautiful as any fish that 
swims. . . . 

''Wednesdayj Sept[ember] 14 . — This afternoon, about two 
o’clock, it being fair weather and almost calm, as we sat playing 
draughts upon deck we were surprised with a sudden and unusual 
darkness of the sun, which, as we could perceive, was only covered 
with a small, thin cloud; when that was passed by we discovered 
that that glorious luminary laboured under a very great eclipse. At 
least ten parts out of twelve of him were hid from our eyes, and we 
were apprehensive he would have been totally darkened. . . . 

"'Wednesday^ Sept[ember'\ 21 . — This morning our steward was 
brought to the gears and whipped, for making an extravagant use 
of flour in the puddings, and for several other misdemeanours. It 
has been perfectly calm all this day, and very hot. I was determined 
to wash myself in the sea today, and should have done so had not 
the appearance of a shark, that mortal enemy to swimmers, de- 
terred me; he seemed to be about five foot long, moves around the 
ship at some distance, in a slow, majestic manner, attended by 
near a dozen of those they call pilot fish, of different sizes; the 
largest of them is not so big as a small mackerel, and the smallest 
not bigger than my little finger. Two of these diminutive pilots 
keep just before his nose, and he seems to govern himself in his 
motions by their direction; while the rest surround him on every 
side indifferently. A shark is never seen without a retinue of these, 

64 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

who are his purveyors, discovering and distinguishing his prey for 
him; while he in turn gratefully protects them from the ravenous, 
hungry dolphin. . . . 

"Friday, September 2 ^. — ^This morning we spied a sail to wind- 
ward of us about two leagues We showed our jack upon the 
ensign-staff and shortened sail for them till about noon, when she 
came up to us. She was a snow [brig] from Dublin, bound for New 
York, having upwards of fifty servants on board of both sexes; they 
all appeared upon deck, and seemed very much pleased at the sight 
of us. There is something strangely cheering to the spirits in the 
meeting of a ship at sea, containing a society of creatures of the 
same species and in the same circumstances with ourselves, after 
we had been long separated and excommunicated as it were from 
the rest of mankind. My heart fluttered in my breast with joy, when 
I saw so many human countenances, and I could scarce refrain 
from that kind of laughter which proceeds from some degree of 
inward pleasure. When we have been for a considerable time toss- 
ing on the vast waters, far from the sight of any land or ships, or 
any mortal creature but ourselves (except a few fish and sea birds), 
the whole world, for aught we know, may be under a second 
deluge, and we, like Noah and his company in the ark, the only 
surviving remnant of the human race. . . . 

“I find our messmates in a better humour and more pleased with 
their present condition than they have been since they came out; 
which I take to proceed from the contemplation of the miserable 
circumstances of the passengers on board our neighbour, and mak- 
ing the comparison. We reckon ourselves in a kind of paradise, 
when we consider how they live, confined and stifled up with such 
a lousy, stinking rabble, in this hot sultry latitude.” 

The Berkshire, with only twenty-one on board, and the crowded 
snow “ran on very lovingly together” for a week, except when the 
wind separated them at night, and twice the snow’s captain came 
on board the ship. On 25 September: “All our discourse now is of 
Philadelphia, and we begin to fancy ourselves ashore already.” 
On the 27th: “I have laid a bowl of punch that we are in Phila- 
delphia next Saturday se’ennight; for we reckon ourselves not 
above one hundred and fifty leagues from land.” (Franklin was 
too hopeful by three days.) 

CHAPTERS Biological Observations 65 

'' Wednesday y Sept[ember] 2S , — ^We had very variable winds and 
weather last night, accompanied with abundance of rain; and now 
the wind is come, about westerly again, but we must bear it with 
patience. This afternoon we took up several branches of gulf-weed 
(with which the sea is spread all over, from the Western Isles to 
the coast of America); but one of these branches had something 
peculiar in it. In common with the rest, it had a leaf about three- 
quarters of an inch long, indented like a saw, and a small yellow 
berry, filled with nothing but wind; besides which it bore a fruit 
of the animal kind, very surprising to see. It was a small shell-fish 
like a heart, the stalk by which it proceeded from the branch 
being partly of a gristly kind. Upon this one branch of the weed 
there were near forty of these vegetable animals; the smallest of 
them, near the end, containing a substance somewhat like an oyster, 
but the larger were visibly animated, opening their shells every 
moment, and thrusting out a set of unformed claws, not unlike 
those of a crab; but the inner part was still a kind of soft jelly. 
Observing the weed more narrowly, I spied a very small crab 
crawling among it, about as big as the head of a ten-penny nail, 
and of a yellowish colour, like the weed itself. This gave me some 
reason to think that he was a native of the branch; that he had not 
long since been in the same condition with the rest of those little 
embryos that appeared in the shells, this being the method of their 
generation; and that, consequently, all the rest of this odd kind of 
fruit might be crabs in due time. To strengthen my conjecture I 
have resolved to keep the weed in salt water, renewing it every day 
till we come on shore, by this experiment to see whether any more 
crabs will be produced or not in this manner. . . . The various 
changes that silkworms, butterflies, and several other insects go 
through, make such alterations and metamorphoses not improb- 

*‘Thursday^ Sept[ember] 2p . — Upon shifting the water in which 
I had put the weed yesterday, I found another crab, much smaller 
than the former, who seemed to have newly left his habitation. 
But the weed begins to wither, and the rest of the embryos are 
dead. This new-comer fully convinces me that at least this sort of 
crabs are generated in this manner. 

''Friday^ Sept[ember] 50. — ^I sat up last night to observe an 

66 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

eclipse of the moon, which the calendar, calculated for London, 
informed us would happen at five o’clock in the morning. ... It 
began with us about eleven last night, and continued rill near two 
this morning, darkening her body about six digits, or one half; 
the middle of it being about half an hour after twelve, by which 
we may discover that we are in a meridian of about four hours and 
a half from London, or 67^ degrees of longitude, and conse- 
quently have not much above one hundred leagues to run. This is 
the second eclipse we have had within these fifteen days.” 

The bored shipmates had again something to talk about: their 
distance from Philadelphia. On 2 October: ‘1 cannot help fancy- 
ing the water is changed a little, as is usual when a ship comes 
within soundings, but ’tis probable I am mistaken; for there is but 
one besides myself of my opinion, and we are very apt to believe 
what we wish to be true.” The next day: ''The water is now very 
visibly changed to the eyes of all except the captain and mate, and 
they will by no means allow it, I suppose because they did not see 
it first. . . . 

''Tuesday j October 4 . — Last night we struck a dolphin, and 
this morning we found a flying-fish dead under the windlass. He 
is about the bigness of a small mackerel, a sharp head, a small 
mouth, and a tail forked somewhat like a dolphin, but the lowest 
branch much larger and longer than the other, and tinged with 
yellow. His back and sides of a darkish blue, his belly white, and 
his skin very thick. His wings are of a finny substance, about a span 
long, reaching when close to his body from an inch below his gills 
to an inch above his tail. When they fly it is straight forward (for 
they cannot readily turn) a yard or two above the water; and per- 
haps fifty yards is the furthest before they dip into the water again, 
for they cannot support themselves in the air any longer than while 
their wings continue wet. These flying-fish are the common prey 
of the dolphin, who is their mortal enemy. When he pursues them, 
they rise and fly; and he keeps close under them till they drop, and 
then snaps them up immediately. They generally fly in flocks, four 
or five, or perhaps a dozen together, and a dolphin is seldom 
caught without one or more in his belly.” 

Now Franklin’s curiosity was all for signs that the ship was 
nearing home. On 4 October: "This afternoon we have seen 


Land! Land! 


abundance of grampuses, which are seldom far from land; but 
towards evening we had a more evident token, to wit, a little tired 
bird, something like a lark, came on board us, who certainly is an 
American, and ’tis likely was ashore this day/' On 5 October: 
“This morning we saw a heron, who had lodged aboard last night. 
'Tis a long-legged, long-necked bird, having, as they say, but one 
gut. They live upon fish, and will swallow a living eel thrice, 
sometimes, before it will remain in their body/' On 7 October 
(gloomily): “For my part I know not what to think of it; we have 
run all this day at a great rate, and now night is come on we have 
no soundings. Sure the American continent is not all sunk under 
water since we left it/' But on 9 October: “After dinner one of 
our mess went aloft to look out, and presently pronounced the 
long wished-for sound: LAND! LAND! In less than an hour we 
could descry it from the deck, appearing like tufts of trees. I could 
not discern it so soon as the rest; my eyes were dimmed with the 
suffusion of two small drops of joy. 

''Monday, October 10 . — ^This morning we stood in again for 
land; and we that had been here before all agreed that it was Cape 
Henlopen; about noon we were come very near, and to our great 
joy saw the pilot-boat come off to us, which was exceeding welcome. 
He brought on board about a peck of apples with him; they seemed 
the most delicious I ever tasted in my life; the salt provisions we 
had been used to gave them a relish. We had extraordinary fair 
wind all the afternoon, and ran above a hundred miles up the 
Delaware before ten at night. The country appears very pleasant 
to the eye, being covered with woods, except here and there a 
house and plantation. We cast anchor when the tide turned, about 
two miles below New Castle, and there lay till the morning tide. 

"Tuesday, October jj. — T his morning we weighed anchor with 
a gentle breeze and passed by New Castle, whence they hailed us 
and bade us welcome. It is extreme fine weather. The sun enlivens 
our stiff limbs with his glorious rays of warmth and brightness. 
The sky looks gay, with here and there a silver cloud. The fresh 
breezes from the woods refresh us; the immediate prospect of 
liberty, after so long and irksome confinement, ravishes us. In 
short, all things conspire to make this the most joyful day I ever 
knew. As we passed by Chester, some of the company went on shore. 

gg Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

impatient once more to tread on terra firma, and designing for 
Philadelphia by land. Four of us remained on board, not caring 
for the fatigue of travel when we knew the voyage had much 
weakened us. About eight at night, the wind failing us, we cast 
anchor at Redbank, six miles from Philadelphia, and thought we 
must be obliged to lie on board that night; but, some young Phila- 
delphians happening to be out upon their pleasure in a boat, they 
came on board, and offered to take us up with them; we accepted 
of their kind proposal, and about ten o’clock landed at Philadel- 
phia, heartily congratulating each other upon our having happily 
completed so tedious and dangerous a voyage. Thank God!” 


D uring the voyage home Franklin drew up a plan by which 
he was to regulate his future conduct, and which he says he 
followed, on the whole, ‘'quite through to old age/’ The original 
plan is missing from his journal. What resolutions he had made 
must now be guessed at, though they were possibly the ones printed 
long afterwards from a manuscript now apparently lost. “Those 
who write of the art of poetry teach us that if we would write what 
may be worth reading we ought always, before we begin, to form 
a regular plan and design of our piece; otherwise we shall be in 
danger of incongruity. I am apt to think it is the same as to life. I 
have never fixed a regular design as to life, by which means it has 
been a confused variety of different scenes. I am now entering upon 
a new one; let me therefore make some resolutions, and form some 
scheme of action, that henceforth I may live in all respects like a 
rational creature, i. It is necessary for me to be extremely frugal 
for some time, till I have paid what I owe, 2. To endeavour to 
speak truth in every instance, to give nobody expectations that are 
not likely to be answered, but aim at sincerity in every word and 
action: the most amiable excellence in a rational being. 3. To 
apply myself industriously to whatever business I take in hand, 
and not divert my mind from my business by any foolish project of 
growing suddenly rich; for industry and patience are the surest 
means of plenty. 4. I resolve to speak ill of no man whatever, not 
even in a matter of truth; but rather by some means excuse the 
faults I hear charged upon others, and upon proper occasions speak 
all the good I know of everybody.”^ 

Franklin’s life for this first year in Philadelphia was not as he 
had planned. For four or five months he was busy in his new 
employment. Denham set up a general store in Water Street with 

70 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

the stock which he had brought from England, taught Franklin 
to keep accounts and to sell goods, and gave him affectionate coun- 
sel. They lived together like father and son. Franklin, who missed 
his own father, celebrated his twenty-first birthday by a high- 
sounding letter to his youngest and favourite sister Jane, then not 
yet fifteen but to be married the following July. He had heard, he 
said, that she had become a beauty and wanted to send her a pres- 
ent. “I had almost determined on a tea table; but when I con- 
sidered that the character of a good housewife was far preferable 
to that of being only a pretty gentlewoman, I concluded to send 
you a spinning-wheel.*’ He sent a moral reflection too. “Sister, fare- 
well, and remember that modesty, as it makes the most homely 
virgin amiable and charming, so the want of it infallibly renders 
the most perfect beauty disagreeable and odious. But when that 
brightest of female virtues shines among other perfections of body 
and mind in the same person, it makes the woman more lovely 
than an angel. Excuse this freedom, and use the same with me.” 

Within a month after this letter both Denham and Franklin 
were taken seriously ill. “My distemper was a pleurisy, which very 
nearly carried me off. I suffered a great deal, gave up the point in 
my own mind, and was rather disappointed when I found myself 
recovering, regretting, in some degree, that I must now some time 
or other have all that disagreeable work to do over again.”^ Den- 
ham’s ledger^ shows that Franklin must have come home nearly 
penniless, for during his twenty weeks’ work he had to be ad- 
vanced cash and goods to the amount of three shillings and five- 
pence more than the six pounds which his wages came to. Den- 
ham, dying after a long sickness, forgave Franklin the unpaid 
balance and the ten pounds’ passage money — or as Franklin says: 
“he left me a small legacy in a noncupative will.” The journeyman 
who had left his trade went back to it. 

Once more a printer, working for Keimer again, Franklin now 
lived only partly as he had before in Philadelphia. He had no 
secret patron. Keith had been removed from his post as governor 
and was shortly to leave the province. “I met him walking the 
streets as a common citizen. He seemed a little ashamed at seeing 
me, but passed without saying anything.” Deborah Read, with her 
one letter from London, had lost hope of Franklin and had mar- 




ried a potter named Rogers, a good workman but a worthless man, 
with whom she had never been happy and from whom she was 
soon parted, after she heard he already had a wife. Franklin re^ 
newed his friendship with his former companions in poetry, but 
Watson died and Osborne went to the West Indies. At the print- 
ing-house Franklin was more than foreman. It did not take him 
long to understand that Keimer had hired him at high wages to 
be, in effect, teacher to the “raw, cheap hands’" at work there, and 
to be dismissed when they had learned their trade. Franklin was 
as cheerful as he was skilful with his random crew. Three of them 
were young Pennsylvania farmers who had ambitiously come to 
Philadelphia: David Harry who later became Franklin’s com^ 
petitor, Hugh Meredith who became his partner, and Stephen 
Potts, his lifelong friend. Two of them were indentured servants: 
John, a wild Irishman who ran away, and George Webb, who had 
deserted Oxford after a year, gone to London to become an actor, 
spent all his money, and bound himself for his passage to be a 
servant in America, where Keimer had bought his time for four 
years from the captain of the ship. Franklin, besides instructing 
and disciplining them, took other responsibilities. “There was no 
letter-founder in America; I had seen types cast at James’s in 
London, but without much attention to the manner; however, I 
now contrived a mould, made use of the letters we had as 
puncheons, struck the matrices in lead, and thus supplied in a 
pretty tolerable way all deficiencies. I also engraved several things 
on occasion; I made the ink; I was warehouseman, and every- 

Serviceable as Franklin was, Keimer, short-tempered, short- 
sighted, after six months began looking for an excuse to let his fore- 
man go, now that the shop had been put in order. “A trifle snapped 
our connexions; for, a great noise happening near the courthouse, I 
put my head out of the window to see what was the matter. Keimer, 
being in the street, looked up and saw me, called out to me in a 
loud voice and angry tone to mind my business, adding some 
reproachful words that nettled me the more for their publicity, 
all the neighbours who were looking out on the same occasion 
being witnesses how I was treated.”® Keimer came indoors, the 
quairel grew furious, and Franklin, waiving the quarter’s notice 

7£ Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

that was due him, caught up his hat and left without the rest of 
his belongings. 

Hugh Meredith brought them to Franklin that evening, and 
they talked over what was to be done. Franklin had begun to think 
of going back to Boston. Meredith, anxious not to lose so good 
and able a friend, urged him to stay in Philadelphia, wait for 
Keimer’s certain failure, and succeed him. Though Franklin had 
no capital, Meredith s father had a high opinion of the young 
foreman, and might set the two up in business as equal partners, 
Franklin’s skill counting for as much as Meredith’s money. The 
father was just then in town and approved of the scheme, partly 
because his son had stopped drinking under his friend’s influence. 
Franklin furnished the elder Meredith an inventory of what would 
be needed, and the order was sent off to London. It would of course 
be several months before the types and press could arrive. For 
a few days Franklin was idle. Then Keimer, *'on a prospect of 
being employed to print some paper money in New Jersey, which 
would require cuts and various types that I only could supply, 
and apprehending Bradford might engage me and get the job 
from him,”® civilly, if interestedly, asked Franklin to forget the 
quarrel and return to work. Meredith strongly urged this, for his 
time with Keimer would not be up till the following spring, and 
he felt the need of more instruction. Franklin yielded in his 
friendly manner, which was both natural and astute. He con- 
trived the first copperplate press in the country, and cut ornaments 
for the bills. With Keimer he went to Burlington, where he did 
the printing to the full satisfaction of the Assembly. 

Keimer made money enough in Burlington to keep him going 
for a year or so more. Franklin made friends for a lifetime. The 
members of the committee who watched the printing to see that 
no unauthorized bills were struck off liked Franklin and felt his 
irresistible young charm. They asked him, not Keimer, to their 
houses and introduced him to others* At the end of three months 
he was on the best of terms with the secretary and the surveyor- 
general of the province and several members of the legislature. 
One shrewd old man, who knew nothing of Franklin’s plans, 
prophesied that he would sooner or later take Keimer’s business 
away from him and make a fortune. Not long after the printers 


Franklin and Meredith 


were back in Philadelphia, early in 1728, the new equipment 
came. Meredith and Franklin, without telling Keimer they were 
to be his rivals, settled with him and left with his consent. They 
took a house in lower Market Street for twenty-four pounds a year, 
let a part of it to Thomas Godfrey, a mathematical glazier with 
whose family they were to board, and opened the new shop. Their 
first customer was a farmer who had been wandering through the 
streets looking for a printer and had been brought in by one of 
their friends. “This countryman’s five shillings, being our first 
fruits, and coming so seasonably, gave me more pleasure than any 
crown I have since earned.”'’^ 


No single thread of narrative can give a true account of Frank- 
lin’s life during the years 1726-3^, for he was leading three lives 
and — most of the time — something of a stealthy fourth, each dis- 
tinct enough to call for a separate record and yet all of them 
closely involved in his total nature. There was his public life, 
beginning with his friendships in the club he organized in 1727, 
and continuing with larger and larger affairs as long as he lived. 
There was his inner life, which was at first much taken up with 
reflections on his own behaviour, and, after he had more or less 
settled that in his mind and habit, grew to an embracing curiosity 
about the whole moral and physical world. There was his life as 
workman — already told — and business man, which greatly occu- 
pied him and was to occupy him until, after twenty years in Phila- 
delphia, he was able to retire from an activity he had never valued 
for itself. In time all three were to be fused in the spacious char- 
acter of a sage in action, but in i7?6~32 they were still distinct if 
not discrepant. 

In business Franklin was extremely alert to the main chance, 
adaptable, resolute, crafty though not petty, and ruthless on occa- 
sion. But he had too ranging a mind to be taken up with his private 
concerns alone, and he genuinely desired the public welfare. 
Having neither wealth nor influence, he began where he could, 
using the tools he had. In the fall of 1727, about the time of his 

74 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

trouble with Keimer, he brought together the group called the 
Junto. Three besides Franklin — Hugh Meredith, Stephen Potts, 
and George Webb — ^were from Keimer’s shop. Meredith was “a 
Welsh Pennsylvanian, thirty years of age, bred to country work; 
honest, sensible, had a great deal of solid observation, was some- 
thing of a reader but given to drink. . . . Potts, a young country- 
man of full age, bred to the same, of uncommon natural parts, and 
great wit and humour, but a little idle. . . . Webb, an Oxford 
scholar . . . lively, witty, good-natured, and a pleasant compan- 
ion, but idle, thoughtless, and imprudent to the last degree.”^ 

With these were joined: “Joseph Breintnal, a copier of deeds 
for the scriveners, a good-natured, fiiendly, middle-aged man, a 
great lover of poetry, reading all he could meet with and writing 
some that was tolerable; very ingenious in many little knick- 
knackeries and of sensible conversation. Thomas Godfrey, a self- 
taught mathematician, great in his way, and afterward inventor of 
what is now called Hadley’s quadrant. But he knew little out of 
his way, and was not a pleasing companion; as, like most great 
mathematicians I have met with, he expected universal precision 
in everything said, and was for ever denying or distinguishing 
upon trifles, to the disturbance of all conversation. He soon left us. 
Nicholas Scull, a surveyor, afterwards surveyor-general, who loved 
books and sometimes made a few verses. William Parsons, bred a 
shoemaker, but, loving reading, had acquired a considerable share 
of mathematics, which he first studied with a view to astrology, but 
he afterwards laughed at it. He also became a surveyor-general. 
William Maugridge, a joiner, a most exquisite mechanic, and a 
solid, sensible man. . , . Robert Grace, a young gentleman of 
some fortune, generous, lively, and witty; a lover of punning and 
of his friends. And William Coleman, then a merchant’s clerk, 
about my age, who had the coolest, clearest head, the best heart, 
and the exactest morals of almost any man I ever met with. He 
became afterwards a merchant of great note, and one of our pro- 
vincial judges.”® 

These solid, sensible, good-natured, ingenious — and inconspicu- 
ous — ^men were friends with whom Franklin already liked to talk, 
and it was a kind of economy to meet with them all at once at a 
tavern every Friday evening. There can be no doubt whose club 

CHAPTER 4 The Junto IS 

it was. Franklin gave it form and direction. Many of the topics 
discussed were raised by him. The Junto was his benevolent lobby 
for the benefit of Philadelphia, and now and then for the advan- 
tage of Benjamin Franklin. 

Somewhat unexpectedly, he seems to have borrowed the scheme 
of the Junto in part from Cotton Mather, who in Boston had 
originated neighbourhood benefit societies, one for every church, 
and had belonged to twenty of them. Mather had drawn up a set 
of ten questions to be read at each meeting, ‘'with due pauses,'’ as 
a guide to discussion.^® Franklin, in his Rules for the Junto 
adopted in 172:8, followed Mather. Some of the questions were 
much the same. Mather had asked: “Is there any matter to be 
humbly moved unto the legislative power, to be enacted into a law 
for public benefit?” Franklin asked: “Have you lately observed 
any defect in the laws of your country of which it would be proper 
to move the legislature for an amendment? Or do you know of any 
beneficial law that is wanting?” Mather: “Is there any particular 
person whose disorderly behaviour may be so scandalous and so 
notorious that we may do well to send unto the said person oui 
charitable admonitions?” Franklin: “Do you know of a fellow- 
citizen who has lately done a worthy action, deserving praise or 
imitation; or who has lately committed an error proper for us to 
be warned against and avoid?” Mather: “Does there appear any 
instance of oppression or fraudulence in the dealings of any sort 
of people that may call for our essays to get it rectified?” Franklin: 
“Have you lately observed any encroachment on the just liberties 
of the people?” But Franklin has nothing like Mather's: “Can any 
further methods be devised that ignorance and wickedness may be 
chased from our people in general, and that household piety in 
particular may flourish among them?” And Mather has nothing 
like most of Franklin's twenty-four humane, secular, practical 

“1. Have you met with anything in the author you last read, 
remarkable or suitable to be communicated to the Junto, par- 
ticularly in history, morality, poetry, physic, travels, mechanic arts, 
or other parts of knowledge? 2. What new story have you lately 
heard agreeable for telling in conversation? 3. Hath any citizen in 
your knowledge failed in his business lately, and what have you 

j6 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

heard of the cause? 4. Have you lately heard of any citizen’s thriv- 
ing well, and by what means? ... 7. What unhappy effects of 
intemperance have you lately observed or heard; of imprudence, 
of passion, or of any other vice or folly? 8. What happy effects of 
temperance, of prudence, of moderation, or of any other virtue? 
9. Have you or any of your acquaintance been lately sick or 
wounded? If so, what remedies were used, and what were their 
effects? 10. Whom do you know that are shortly going voyages or 
journeys, if one should have occasion to send by them? . . . 

12. Hath any deserving stranger arrived in town since last meeting 
that you have heard of? And what have you heard or observed of 
his character or merits? And whether, think you, it lies in the 
power of the Junto to oblige him, or encourage him as he deserves? 

13. Do you know of any deserving young beginner lately set up, 
whom it lies in the power of the Junto any way to encourage? . . . 
16. Hath anybody attacked your reputation lately? And what can 
the Junto do towards securing it? 17. Is there any man whose 
friendship you want, and which the Junto, or any of them, can 
procure for you? 18. Have you lately heard any member’s char- 
acter attacked, and how have you defended it? 19. Hath any man 
injured you, from whom it is in the power of the Junto to procure 
redress? 20. In what manner can the Junto, or any of them, assist 
you in any of your honourable designs? . . 

These questions were the Junto’s weekly ritual. The members 
met first at a tavern, later in a room hired in a house belonging to 
Grace. Between questions there were, as in Boston, due pauses — 
in Philadelphia long enough to drink a glass of wine. The rules 
further required that ‘'every member, in his turn, should produce 
one or more queries on any point of morals, politics, or natural 
philosophy, to be discussed by the company; and once in three 
months produce and read an essay of his own writing, on any 
subject he pleased. Our debates were to be under the direction of 
a president, and to be conducted in the sincere spirit of inquiry 
after truth, without fondness for dispute or desire of victory; and, 
to prevent warmth, all expressions of positiveness in opinions, or 
direct contradiction, were after some time made contraband, and 
prohibited under small pecuniary penalties.”^^ 

Franklin in his own queries asked the Junto things he was asking 

CHAPTER 4 ^m§tions Jor Discmsion 77 

himself. '‘How shall we judge of the goodness of a writing? Or 
what qualities should a writing have to be good and perfect in its 
kind?’’ (He wrote out his own answer, and summed up: “It should 
be smooth, clear, and short.”) “Can a man arrive at perfection in 
this life, as some believe; or is it impossible, as others believe?” 
“Wherein consists the happiness of a rational creature?” “What is 
wisdom?” (“The knowledge of what will be best for us on all occa- 
sions, and the best ways of attaining it.”) “Is any man wise at all 
times and in all things?” (“No, but some are more frequently wise 
than others.”) “Whether those meats and drinks are not the best 
that contain nothing in their natural taste, nor have anything 
added by art, so pleasing as to induce us to eat or drink when we 
are not thirsty or hungry, or after thirst and hunger are satisfied; 
water, for instance, for drink, and bread or the like for meat?” “Is 
there any difference between knowledge and prudence? If there 
is any, which of the two is most eligible?” “Is it justifiable to put 
private men to death, for the sake of public safety or tranquillity, 
who have committed no crime? As, in the case of the plague, to 
stop infection; or as in the case of the Welshmen here executed?’ 
“If the sovereign power attempts to deprive a subject of his right 
(or, which is the same thing, of what he thinks his right), is it 
justifiable in him to resist, if he is able?” “Which is best: to make 
a friend of a wise and good man that is poor or of a rich man that 
is neither wise nor good?” “Does it not, in a general way, require 
great study and intense application for a poor man to become rich 
and powerful, if he would do it without the forfeiture of honesty?” 
“Does it not require as much pains, study, and application to 
become truly wise and strictly virtuous as to become rich?” 
“Whence comes the dew that stands on the outside of a tankard 
that has cold water in it in the summer time?”^^ 

Many young men have organized clubs for talk and friendship, 
but only Franklin ever kept one alive for thirty years. He did not 
lose interest as most young men do, or tire of leadership. The 
Junto was his life enlarged and extended. It was convivial as well 
as philosophical. Once a month in the pleasant seasons the debaters 
met across the river for outdoor exercise. Once a year they had an 
anniversary dinner, with songs and healths. The Junto was prac^ 
tical as well as convivial. Perhaps, in the long run, the help the 

78 Benjamin Franklin philadelphij^ 

members gave each other had as much to do as anything with 
making it last. It was a secret brotherhood. New members had to 
stand up with their hands on their breasts and say they loved man- 
kind in general and truth for truth’s sake. But in the ritual ques- 
tions many of the issues were more immediate. Strangers in Phila- 
delphia were to be welcomed if they deserved it, young beginners 
in trade or business encouraged, reputations defended, friendships 
furthered, grievances redressed, useful information exchanged. 
Franklin himself was benefited. Breintnal brought the new 
printing-house its first large order. Grace and Coleman lent Frank- 
lin money to buy Meredith out. The Junto, commonly known at 
first as the Leather Apron, became the club of young, poor, enter- 
prising men, as distinguished from the Merchants’ Every Night, 
which was for the respectable and established, and the Bachelors, 
who were gay and suspected of being wicked. (Grace was a member 
of the Bachelors, and Webb, who wrote a poem called Batchelors- 
Hall which Franklin published.) 

In time the Junto had so many applications for membership that 
it was at a loss to know how to limit itself to the twelve originally 
planned. Franklin, who preferred the convenient apostolic num- 
ber, suggested that the Junto be kept as it was and that each 
member organize a subordinate club, “with the same rules respect- 
ing queries, etc., and without informing them of the connexion 
with the Junto. The advantages proposed were the improvement 
of so many more young citizens by the use of our institutions; our 
better acquaintance with the general sentiments of the inhabitants 
on any occasion, as the Junto member might propose what 
queries we should desire, and was to report to the Junto what 
passed in his separate club; the promotion of our particular inter- 
ests in business by more extensive recommendation, and the 
increase of our influence in public affairs, and our power of doing 
good by spreading through the several clubs the sentiments of the 
Junto. Only five or six of these subordinate clubs were founded. 

The benevolent imperialism of the Junto did not go beyond 
these little clubs of artisans and tradesmen in Philadelphia, but 
Franklin for a few enthusiastic months had world-wide schemes. 
On 19 May 1731, about the time he became a Mason, he set down, 
in the library of the Junto which was also the room where the club 

CHAPTER 4 The United Party for Virtue 79 

held its meetings, his observations on his reading of history. The 
affairs of the world, he had observed, are carried on by parties. 
These parties act in their own interest or what they think their 
interest. Their different interests cause natural confusion. Within 
each party each man has his own private interest. As soon as a 
party has gained its general point, each man puts forth his special 
claim, and the party comes to confusion within itself. Few men 
act for the good of their country except when they can believe that 
their country’s good is also theirs. Fewer men still act for the good 
of mankind. Consequently: “There seems to me at present to be 
great occasion for raising a United Party for Virtue, by forming 
the virtuous and good men of all nations into a regular body, to be 
governed by suitable good and wise rules, which good and wise 
men may probably be more unanimous in their obedience to, than 
common people are to common laws.”^® 

The new sect was, much like the Junto, to be begun and spread 
by young single men joined in a secret society, each of whom 
should find other worthy members. “The members should engage 
to afford their advice, support, and assistance to each other in pro- 
moting one another’s interests, business, and advancement in 
life. . . . For distinction, we should be called the Society of the 
Free and Easy: free, as being, by the general habit and practice of 
the virtues, free from the dominion of vice; and particularly, by 
the practice of industry and frugality, free from debt, which 
exposes a man to confinement and a species of slavery to his 
creditors.”^® Franklin was himself to write a kind of gospel for 
these free and easy saints, a book to be called The Art of Virtue 
which would not merely exhort to goodness but would show the 
precise means of achieving it. Almost thirty years later he was still 
hoping to write the book, which he told Lord Karnes would be 
“adapted for universal use.”^'^ About his sect he did nothing but 
propose it to two young men who felt his enthusiasm. Then press- 
ing matters intervened, and the Party for Virtue had to wait. Yet at 
eighty-two Franklin could say: “I am still of opinion that it was a 
practicable scheme, and might have been very useful, by forming 
a great number of good citizens; and I was not discouraged by the 
seeming magnitude of the undertaking, as I have always thought 
that one man of tolerable abilities may work great changes and 

80 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

accomplish great affairs among mankind, if he first forms a good 
plan and . . . makes the executivOn of that same plan his sole study 
and business.”^® 


Remembering Franklin when he was old and canny, men forget 
that he was once young and passionate, romantic about the schemes 
which he i ealistically carried out, troubled by the conflict of many 
ideas in his fruitful mind, and ardently cherishing those he thought 
true and good. In London he had justified his looser impulses by 
arguing, against Wollaston, that men are machines driven by neces- 
sity and that there are no virtues and no vices in nature. But on 
his voyage home and during his first year or two in Philadelphia 
he decided that this argument was at fault. The freethinkers he 
had known best — Collins, Keith, Ralph — had all injured him, and 
he while a freethinker had behaved badly to his brother James, 
to Deborah Read, to Ralph’s milliner, and to Vernon. There were 
in practice, perhaps in nature itself, such things as right and wrong. 
“Revelation had indeed no weight with me, as such; but I enter- 
tained an opinion that, though certain actions might not be bad 
because they were forbidden by it, or good because it commanded 
them, yet probably these actions might be forbidden because they 
were bad for us, or commanded because they were beneficial to us, 
in their own natures, all the circumstances of things considered.”^^ 
His mind was too free to let him retreat to any contemporary sect, 
and he remained a deist. But neither was he able to be satisfied 
with a dry and niggling rationalism. Like Wollaston, he seems to 
have felt the need of some kind of ritual of worship. On 20 
November 1728, the year Franklin formulated the Junto’s rules, 
he settled upon his Articles of Belief and Acts of Religion^^ which 
served as his creed — though he later simplified that — and his pri- 
vate religious ceremony. 

Believing that there is one Supreme Being, “Author and Father 
of the Gods themselves,” he still held in 1728, again with Wol- 
laston, that there are many lesser Gods, each in his system like a 
sun. To the God of his own system Franklin raised his “praise and 


Franklin* s 'Ritual 


adoration. ... I conceive for many reasons that He is a good 
Being, and as I should be happy to have so wise, good, and power- 
ful a Being my friend, let me consider in what manner I shall 
make myself most acceptable to Him. Next to the praise resulting 
from and due to His wisdom, I believe He is pleased and delights 
in the happiness of those He has created; and since without virtue 
man can have no happiness in this world, I firmly believe He 
delights to see me virtuous, because He is pleased when He sees me 
happy. And since He has created many things which seem purely 
designed for the delight of man, I believe He is not offended when 
He sees his children solace themselves in any manner of pleasant 
exercises and innocent delights; and I think no pleasure innocent 
that is to man hurtful. I love Him therefore for His Goodness, and 
I adore Him for His Wisdom.'’ 

After this statement of First Principles, the form of Adoration. 
“Being mindful that before I address the Deity my soul ought to 
be calm and serene, free from passion and perturbation, or other- 
wise elevated with rational joy and pleasure, I ought to use a 
countenance that expresses a filial respect, mixed with a kind of 
smiling that signifies inward joy and satisfaction and admira- 
tion. . . . O Creator, O Father! I believe that Thou art good and 
that Thou art pleased with the pleasure of Thy children. — Praised 
be Thy name for ever. By Thy power hast Thou made the glorious 
sun, with his attending worlds; from the energy of Thy mighty 
will they first received their prodigious motion, and by Thy wis- 
dom hast Thou prescribed the wondrous laws by which they 
move. — Praised be Thy name for ever. . . . Thou abhorrest in 
Thy creatures treachery, deceit, malice, revenge, intemperance, 
and every other hurtful vice; but Thou art a lover of justice and 
sincerity, of friendship and benevolence, and every virtue. Thou 
art my friend, my father, and my benefactor. — Praised be Thy 
name, O God, for ever! Amen!” The Adoration concluded with 
“Milton’s Hymn to the Creator” from Paradise LosP-^ and “the 
reading of some book, or part of a book, discoursing on and excit- 
ing to moral virtue.” 

Then the Petition and Thanks which completely reveal what 
the inner Franklin valued and desired, 

“That I may be preserved from atheism and infidelity, impiety 

^82 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

and profaneness, and in my addresses to Thee carefully avoid 
irreverence and ostentation, formality and odious hypocrisy, — . 
Help me, O Father! 

“That I may be loyal to my prince and faithful to my country, 
careful for its good, valiant in its defence, and obedient to its laws, 
abhorring treason as much as tyranny, — Help me, O Father! 

“That I may to those above me be dutiful, humble, and submis- 
sive; avoiding pride, disrespect, and contumacy, — Help me, O 

“That I may to those below me be gracious, condescending, and 
forgiving, using clemency, protecting innocent distress, avoiding 
cruelty, harshness, and oppression, insolence, and unreasonable 
severity, — Help me, O Father! 

“That I may refrain from censure, calumny, and detraction; 
that I may avoid and abhor deceit and envy, fraud, flattery, and 
hatred, malice, lying, and ingratitude, — Help me, O Father! 

“That I may be sincere in friendship, faithful in trust, and 
impartial in judgment, watchful against pride and against anger 
(that momentary madness), — Help me, O Father! 

“That I may be just in all my dealings, temperate in my pleas- 
ures, full of candour and ingenuity, humanity, and benevolence, — 
Help me, O Father! 

“That I may be grateful to my benefactors, and generous to my 
friends, exercising charity and liberality to the poor and pity to 
the miserable, — Help me, O Father! 

“That I may avoid avarice and ambition, jealousy and intem- 
perance, falsehood, luxury, and lasciviousness, — Help me, O 

“That I may possess integrity and evenness of mind, resolution 
in difficulties, and fortitude under affliction; that I may be punc- 
tual in performing my promises, peaceable and prudent in my 
behaviour, — Help me, O Father! 

“That I may have tenderness for the weak and reverent respect 
for the ancient; that I may be kind to my neighbours, good- 
natured to my companions, and hospitable to strangers, — Help 
me, O Father! 

“That I may be averse to talebearing, backbiting, detraction, 

CHAPTER 4 Socratic Dialogues SS 

slander and craft and overreaching, abhor extortion, perjury, and 
every kind of wickedness, — Help me, O Father! 

“That I may be honest and open-hearted, gentle, merciful, and 
good, cheerful in spirit, rejoicing in the good of others, — Help me, 

0 Father! 

“That I may have a constant regard to honour and probity, that 

1 may possess a perfect innocence and a good conscience, and at 
length become truly virtuous and magnanimous, — Help me, good 
God; help me, O Father! 

“And forasmuch as ingratitude is one of the most odious of 
vices, let me be not unmindful gratefully to acknowledge the 
favours I receive from Heaven. . . . 

“For peace and liberty, for food and raiment, for corn and wine 
and milk, and every kind of healthful nourishment, — Good God, 
I thank Thee! 

“For the common benefits of air and light; for useful fire and 
delicious water, — Good God, I thank Thee! 

“For knowledge and literature and every useful art, for my 
friends and their prosperity, and for the fewness of my enemies, — 
Good God, I thank Thee! 

“For all Thy innumerable benefits; for life and reason and the 
use of speech; for health and joy and every pleasant hour, — My 
good God, I thank Thee!” 

Though Franklin before he was twenty-three had so wide and 
serene a view of human behaviour, he had not yet resolved in 
himself the conflict between his instinct toward pleasure and his 
faith in reasonable virtue. He argued the matter out, some time 
in 1730, in two Socratic dialogues — ^suggested by The Moralists in 
Shaftesbury's Characteristics — ^which he read before the Junto and 
published in his newspaper.^^ The speakers were Philocles and 
Horatio, really two dramatic halves of Franklin. Misfortune 
had sent Horatio, the man of pleasure, to philosophy for relief, and 
Philocles, the man of reason, told his friend that he had given more 
for pleasure than it was worth. 

“Hor[atid], That depends all upon opinion. Who shall judge 
what the pleasure is worth? Supposing a pleasing form of the fair 
kind strikes me so much that I can enjoy nothing without the 

84 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

enjoyment of that one object. Or, that pleasure in general is so 
favourite a mistress that I will take her as men do their wives, for 
better or worse; mind no consequences, nor regarding what's to 
come. Why should I not do it? 

‘‘Phil[ocles\, Suppose, Horatio, that a friend of yours entered 
into the world about two-and-twenty, with a healthful vigorous 
body, and a fair plentiful estate of about five hundred pounds a 
year; and yet, before he had reached thirty, should, by following 
his pleasures and not, as you say, duly regarding consequences, 
have run out of his estate and disabled his body to that degree that 
he had neither the means nor capacity of enjoyment left, nor any- 
thing else to do but wisely shoot himself through the head to be at 
rest; what would you say to this unfortunate man's conduct? . . . 
Does that miserable son of pleasure appear as reasonable and lovely 
a being in your eyes as the man who, by prudently and rightly 
gratifying his natural passions, had preserved his body in full 
health, and his estate entire, and enjoyed both to a good old age, 
and then died with a thankful heart for the good things he had 
received . . . ? Say, Horatio, are these men equally wise and 
happy? And is everything to be measured by mere fancy and opin- 
ion, without considering whether that fancy or opinion be right? 

''Hot, Hardly so neither, I think; yet sure the wise and good 
Author of Nature could never make us to plague us. He could 
never give us passions, on purpose to subdue and conquer 'em; 
nor produce this self of mine, or any other self, only that it may 
be denied; for that is denying the works of the great Creator 
Himself. Self-denial, then, which is what I suppose you mean by 
prudence, seems to me not only absurd but very dishonourable to 
that supreme Wisdom and Goodness. . . . Are we created sick, 
only to be commanded to be sound? Are we born under one law, 
our passions, and yet bound to another, that of reason? Answer me, 
Philocles, for I am warmly concerned for the honour of Nature, 
the mother of us all. . . . 

''Phil, This, my dear Horatio, I have to say: that what you find 
fault with and clamour against, as the most terrible evil in the 
world, self-denial, is really the greatest good and the highest self- 
gratification. If, indeed, you use the word in the sense of some 
weak sour moralists, and much weaker divines, you'll have just 

CHAPTER 4 Self-Denial 85 

reason to laugh at it. But if you take it as understood by philos- 
ophers and men of sense, you will presently see her charms, and 
fly to her embraces, notwithstanding her demure looks, as abso- 
lutely necessary to produce even your own darling sole good, 
pleasure; for self-denial is never a duty, or a reasonable action, but 
as ’tis a natural means of procuring more pleasure than you can 
taste without it. . . . 

''Hot, . . . I’m impatient, and all on fire. Explain, therefore^ 
in your beautiful, natural, easy way of reasoning, what I’m to 
understand by this grave lady of yours, with so forbidding, down- 
cast looks, and yet so absolutely necessary to my pleasures. I stand 
ready to embrace her; for, you know, pleasure I court under all 
shapes and forms. 

''Phil. ... No created being can be all-wise, all-good, and all- 
powerful, because his powers and capacities are finite and limited; 
consequently, whatever is created must, in its own nature, be 
subject to error, irregularity, excess, and disorder. All intelligent, 
rational agents find in themselves a power of judging what kind of 
beings they are; what actions are proper to preserve ’em and what 
consequences will generally attend them, what pleasures they are 
formed for and to what degree their natures are capable of receiv- 
ing them. All we have to do then, Horatio, is to consider, when we 
are surprised with a new object and passionately desire to enjoy it, 
whether the gratifying that passion be consistent with the gratify- 
ing other passions and appetites equal if not more necessary to us. 
And whether it consists with our happiness tomorrow, next week, 
or next year; for, as we all wish to live, we are obliged by reason 
to take as much care for our future as our present happiness and 
not build one upon the ruins of t’other. ... So that this philo- 
sophical self-denial is only refusing to do an action which you 
strongly desire, because ’tis inconsistent with your health, fortunes, 
or circumstances in the world; or, in other words, because ’twould 
cost you more than ’twas worth. You would lose by it, as a man of 

So far in the first dialogue. In the second Philocles and Horatio 
had met again in the ''delightful, awe-inspiring fields” after three 
or four months. Horatio, now convinced that self-denial is a pleas- 
ure, wanted further to be told what was the "constant, durable 

8^ Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

good” which he had heard Philocles speak of. 'Tray explain what 
you mean; for I am not much used to this abstract way of reason- 
ing.” Philocles explained that the good of man is not natural and 
sensual, but rational and moral. 

Natural or sensual pleasure continues no longer than the 
action itself, but this divine or moral pleasure [doing good to 
others] continues when the action is over, and swells and grows 
upon your hand by reflection. The one is inconstant, unsatisfying, 
of short duration, and attended with numberless ills; the other is 
constant, yields full satisfactions, is durable, and no evils preceding, 
accompanying, or following it. But, if you inquire further into 
the cause of this difference, and would know why the moral 
pleasures are greater than the sensual; perhaps the reason is the 
same in all other creatures; that their happiness or chief good 
consists in acting up to their chief faculty, or that faculty which 
distinguishes them from all creatures of a different species. The 
chief faculty in a man is his reason, and consequently his chief 
good; or that which may be justly called his good consists not 
merely in action, but in reasonable action. By reasonable actions 
we understand those actions which are preservative of the human 
kind and naturally tend to produce real and unmixed happiness: 
and these actions, by way of distinction, we call actions morally 

''Hot. . . . Pray tell me what is the real difference between 
natural good and ill, and moral good and ill. For I know several 
people who use the terms without ideas. 

'"Phil, That may be. The difference lies only in this: that natural 
good and ill is pleasure and pain; moral good and ill is pleasure or 
pain produced with intention and design; for 'tis the intention 
only that makes the agent morally good or bad. 

"Hor, But may not a man, with a very good intention, do an ill 

"Phil Yes, but then he errs in his judgment, though his design 
be good. If his error is inevitable, or such as, all things considered, 
he could not help, he is inculpable; but if it arose through want of 
diligence in forming his judgment about the nature of human 
actions, he is immoral and culpable. 

'"Hot, I find, then, that in order to please ourselves rightly, or to 

CHAPTER 4 Thinking Rightly 87 

do good to others morally, we should take great care of our 

''Phil. Nothing concerns you more; for, as the happiness or real 
good of men consists in right action, and right action cannot be 
produced without right opinion, it behoves us, above all things 
in this world, to take care that our opinions of things be according 
to the nature of things. The foundation of all virtue and happiness 
is thinking rightly.” 

In this ''beautiful, natural, easy way of reasoning” Franklin in 
Philadelphia answered his London arguments. There was more 
than reasoning in his dialogues; a zest for reason, a hunger for 
goodness, a passion for wisdom. "About this time [but perhaps a 
year or so later] I conceived the bold and arduous project of 
arriving at moral perfection. I wished to live without committing 
any fault at any time; I would conquer all that either natural 
inclination, custom, or company might lead me into. As I knew, 
or thought I knew, what was right and wrong, I did not see why 
I might not always do the one and avoid the other. But I soon 
found I had undertaken a task of more difficulty than I had imag- 
ined. While my care was employed in guarding against one fault, 
I was often surprised by another; habit took the advantage of 
inattention; inclination was sometimes too strong for reason. I 
concluded, at length, that the mere speculative conviction that it 
was our interest to be completely virtuous was not sufficient to 
prevent our slipping; and that the contrary habits must be broken, 
and good ones acquired and established, before we can have any 
dependence on a steady, uniform rectitude of conduct. 

(Franklin had told the Junto that he supposed "the perfection 
of anything to be only the greatest the nature of the thing is 
capable of. Different things have different degrees of perfection, 
and the same things at different times. Thus, a horse is more per- 
fect than an oyster, yet the oyster may be a perfect oyster as well as 
the horse a perfect horse,” People might properly insist that "a 
man in this life cannot be so perfect as an angel”; for "an angel, 
by being incorporeal, is allowed some perfections we are at present 
incapable of, and less liable to some imperfections than we are 
liable to. If they mean a man is not capable of being as perfect 
here as he is capable of being in heaven, that may be true likewise- 

88 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

But that a man is not capable of being so perfect here as he is 
capable of being here is not sense. ”2^) 

Like a scientist undertaking an experiment in a laboratory, 
Franklin worked out a scheme of desirable virtues and “annexed 
to each a short precept which fully expressed the extent I gave to 
its meaning. ... 1. Temperance: Eat not to dullness; drink not 
to elevation. 2. Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or 
yourself; avoid trifling conversation. 3. Order: Let all your things 
have their places; let each part of your business have its time. 
4. Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought; perform with- 
out fail what you resolve. 5. Frugality: Make no expense but to do 
good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing. 6. Industry: Lose 
no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all un- 
necessary actions. 7. Sincerity: Use no hurtful deceit; think inno- 
cently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly. 8. Justice: 
Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are 
your duty. 9. Moderation: Avoid extremes; forbear resenting 
injuries so much as you think they deserve. 10. Cleanliness: Tol- 
erate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation. 11. Tran- 
quillity: Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or 
unavoidable. 12. Chastity: Rarely use venery but for health or 
offspring, never to dullness, weakness, 01 the injury of your own 
or another’s peace or reputation. 13. Humility: Imitate Jesus and 

Franklin arranged his virtues in this order because he thought 
he would have to take them up one at a time and that success in 
one ought to help him with the next. ‘'Temperance first, as it tends 
to procure that coolness and clearness of head which is so neces- 
sary where constant vigilance is to be kept up. . . . This being 
acquired and established. Silence would be more easy; and my 
desire being to gain knowledge at the same time that I improved 
in virtue, and considering that in conversation it was obtained 
rather by the use of the ears than of the tongue, and therefore 
wishing to break a habit I was getting into of prattling, punning, 
and joking, which only made me acceptable to trifling company, I 
gave Silence the second place. This and the next, Order^ I expected 
would allow me more time for attending to my project and my 
studies. Resolution, once become habitual, would keep me firm in 



Experiments in Perfediion 

my endeavours to obtain all the subsequent virtues; Frugality and 
Industry, freeing me from my remaining debt and producing 
affluence and independence, would make more easy the practice of 
Sincerity and Justice, etc.”^® (What other moralist since the Greeks 
has ever so cheerfully taken it for granted that affluence might 
make it easier to practise sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, 
tranquillity, chastity, and humility?) 

Like a scientist in a laboratory, Franklin took careful notes of 
his experiment. '‘I made a little book, in which I allotted a page 
for each of the virtues. ... I determined to give a week’s strict 
attention to each of the virtues successively. Thus, in the first week, 
my great guard was to avoid every the least offence against T era- 
perance, leaving the other virtues to their ordinary chance, only 
marking every evening the faults of the day. . . . Proceeding thus 
to the last, I could go through a course complete in thirteen weeks, 
and four courses in a year. And like him who, having a garden to 
weed, does not attempt to eradicate all the bad herbs at once, but 
works on one of the beds at a time, and, having accomplished the 
first, proceeds to a second, so I should have, I hoped, the encourag- 
ing pleasure of seeing on my pages the progress I made in vir- 
tue . . . till in the end, by a number of courses, I should be happy 
in viewing a clean book.”^’^ 

He was surprised to find he had more faults than he had imag- 
ined, but pleased to see them diminish before he lost interest in 
his experiment in perfection and gradually gave it up. It was in 
respect to Order that he was most incorrigible. In business he had 
many interruptions, and with his ‘‘exceeding good memory” he 
found it easier to remember where things might be than to watch 
that they were kept where they belonged. But he did make a sys- 
tematic programme for his usual day. He got up at five, washed, 
said his prayer to Powerful Goodness, planned the day’s work, 
studied, and had breakfast till eight. From eight to twelve he 
worked at his business. From twelve to two he read, looked after 
his accounts, and dined. From two till six he worked again. From 
six to ten: “Put things in their place. Supper. Music or diversion, 
or conversation. Examination of the day.”^® Then he slept from 
ten to five again. He carried out this program as well as he could. 
Perhaps he was most successful with Humility, He had not im 

go Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

clnded it on his list at first: ‘‘but a Quaker friend having kindly 
informed me that I was generally thought proud; that my pride 
showed itself frequently in conversation; that I was not content 
with being in the right when discussing any point but was over- 
bearing and rather insolent, of which he convinced me by men- 
tioning several instances; I determined endeavouring to cure 
myself, if I could, of this vice or folly among the rest. ... I can- 
not boast of much success in acquiring the reality of this virtue, 
but I had a good deal with regard to the appearance of it. I made 
it a rule to forbear all direct contradiction of the sentiments of 
others, and all positive assertion of my own. ... I soon found 
the advantage of this change in my manner; the conversations I 
engaged in went on more pleasantly. The modest way in which 
I proposed my opinions procured them a readier reception and less 
contradiction; I had less mortification when I was found to be in 
the wrong; and I more easily prevailed with others to give up their 
mistakes and join with me when I happened to be in the right.”^® 
Many of Franklin’s friends might have wondered if they had 
known what were the virtues he so much desired. They would have 
supposed he already had enough temperance, order, resolution, 
frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tran- 
quillity for any man, and would not have supposed he set any such 
value as this on silence, chastity, humility. All of his friends in the 
Junto must have wondered when they heard that their amiable 
companion had even thought of reaching austere perfection. For, 
moving in the familiar, fallible world, he showed few signs of the 
inner life which ran incessantly through his studious days and 
nights, and from which his influence and charm rose to pour over 


Franklin was not all mind and will. There was also his warm, 
indocile flesh. No certain early likeness of him survives, but what 
he outwardly was when he returned to Philadelphia may be imag- 
ined backwards from later portraits and various chance notes on 
his personal appearance. Strongly built, rounded like a swimmer 


Hard’-to-Be-Govermd Passion 


or a wrestler, not angular like a runner, he was five feet nine or ten 
inches tall, with a large head and square, deft hands. His hair was 
blond or light brown, his eyes grey, full, and steady, his mouth 
wide and humorous with a pointed upper lip. His clothing was 
as clean as it was plain. Though he and others say he was hesitant 
in speech, he was prompt in action. On that bored voyage home 
he had been among those who tied the rope around the cheat and 
hoisted him up, and the one who by himself did the hard, wet 
work of commandeering the boat. Now back among old friends, 
and making new ones, he was restless with vitality. 

Again as in London the chief impulse he could or did not regu- 
late was sexual. He told his illegitimate son all that is known about 
whatever excesses there were “through this dangerous time of 
youth, and the hazardous situations I was sometimes in among 
strangers, remote from the eye and advice of my father. . . . That 
hard-to-be-governed passion of youth hurried me frequently into 
intrigues with low women that fell in my way, which were attended 
with some expense and great inconvenience, besides a continual 
risk to my health by a distemper which of all things I dreaded, 
though by great good luck I escaped it.’’^^ In his morning litany 
he could pray to be kept from lasciviousness, but when night came 
lust might come with it. Phrases of gallantry appear in his writings. 
Even Philocles speaks of even self-denial as a charming and desira- 
ble mistress. Franklin was then not a gallant and he seems not to 
have fallen in love. He went to women hungrily, secretly, and 

But one of them bore him a son, in 1730 or early in 1731 
(Franklin referred to him as nineteen in April 1750®^). None of the 
scandal-hunters of that day could find out who the mother was, 
though an anonymous political enemy in 1764 alleged she was a 
maid named Barbara who had served in the Franklin household, 
for ten pounds a year, till her death “lately’' and had been buried 
in an unmarked grave.®^ Subsequent antiquarians have not cleared 
up the mystery, which is still obscure when it is argued that the 
mother may have been Deborah Read, before or after she began to 
call herself Deborah Franklin. 

Franklin had been gradually convinced that it was better to 
marry than to burn — or, as he later put it, that “a single man 

9^ Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

resembles the odd half of a pair of scissors/’ In his search for a 
wife he had begun near home, at first without intention. ‘1 had 
hitherto continued to board with Godfrey” — the disputative mem- 
ber of the Junto — “who lived in part of my house with his wife 
and children, and had one side of the shop for his glazier’s business, 
though he worked little, being always absorbed in his mathematics. 
Mrs. Godfrey projected a match for me with a relation’s daughter, 
took opportunities of bringing us often together, till a serious 
courtship on my part ensued, the girl being in herself very deserv- 
ing. The old folks encouraged me by continual invitations to 
supper, and by leaving us together, till at length it was time to 
explain. Mrs. Godfrey managed our little treaty. I let her know 
that I expected as much money with their daughter as would pay 
off my remaining debt for the printing-house, which I believe was 
not then above a hundred pounds. She brought me word they had 
no such sum to spare; I said they might mortgage their house in 
the loan office. The answer to this, after some days, was that they 
did not approve the match; that, on inquiry of Bradford, they had 
been informed the business was not a profitable one . . . and, 
therefore, I was forbidden the house and the daughter shut up.”^^ 

The business-like suitor did not feel sure that there had been a 
change of sentiment in the business-like parents. Perhaps they 
thought he could not do without the girl and might elope with her 
and so forfeit any claim he had on them. He was not so far gone, 
and he gave up his suit. “Mrs. Godfrey brought me afterwards 
some more favourable account of their disposition, and would 
have drawn me on again; but I declared absolutely my resolution 
to have nothing more to do with that family. This was resented by 
the Godfreys; we differed, and they removed, leaving me the whole 
house, and I resolved to take no more inmates. . . . 

“But this affair having turned my thoughts to marriage, I looked 
round me and made overtures of acquaintance in other places; but 
soon found that, the business of a printer being generally thought 
a poor one, I was not to expect money with a wife, unless with 
such a one as I should not otherwise think agreeable. ... A 
friendly correspondence as neighbours and old acquaintances had 
continued between me and Mrs. Read’s family, who all had a 
regard for me from the time of my first lodging in their house. I 

CHAPTER 4 Marriage 95 

was often invited there and consulted in their affairs, wherein 
I sometimes was ot service. I pitied poor Miss Read’s unfortunate 
situation, who was generally dejected, seldom cheerful, and avoided 
company. I considered my giddiness and inconstancy when in 
London as in a great degree the cause of her unhappiness, though 
the mother was good enough to think the fault more her own than 
mine, as she had prevented our marrying before I went thither, 
and persuaded the other match in my absence. Our mutual affec- 
tion was revived, but there were now great objections to our union. 
The match was indeed looked upon as invalid, a preceding wife 
being said to be living in England; but this could not be easily 
proved, because of the distance; and though there was a report of 
his death” — Rogers had run away from his creditors to the West 
Indies — 'It was not certain. Then, though it should be true, he 
had left many debts, which his successor might be called upon to 
pay. We ventured, however, over all these difficulties, and I took 
her to wife September ist, 1730.”^^ 

This is the philosopher’s bland version, written at the country 
seat of the Bishop of St. Asaph’s in 1771. In August 1730, just after 
Franklin had published his dialogues concerning pleasure, he must 
have been more troubled. By that time he could have known that 
Barbara, or whoever it was, had had or was to have a child of his. 
To scurry into marriage with Deborah was to risk her under- 
standable anger when she should find out. Or if matters were other- 
wise, and it was she who was to have his child, the situation was 
still troubling. Suppose Rogers were alive. For Deborah Rogers to 
have a child by another man would be at least as bad as bigamy. 
There was bound to be scandal. But of course it would be less if 
the child appeared to be Franklin’s and an unknown mother’s. The 
lusty philosopher could take all the blame. He did take it. The 
child, born to whatever mother, lived in the new household as 
William Franklin, supposed to be illegitimate but acknowledged 
and cherished. Deborah may have had reason to be grateful, or she 
may have been merely forgiving. It is now impossible to say which. 
Because the couple could not be sure that Rogers was dead, they 
were married at common law, without a ceremony or any record 
at Christ Church, which she attended. The young widow, if she 
was that, came to the house near the market as Franklin’s wife, and 

94 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

no more minded the irregularity than he did, or her mother who 
lived with them, or any of their friends. Deborah Franklin was a 
sturdy, handsome, high-coloured woman, untaught and sometimes 
turbulent, little interested in her husband’s studies or speculations 
but devoted to him, economical and sensible. *'She proved a good 
and faithful helpmate, assisted me much by attending the shop; we 
throve together, and have ever mutually endeavoured to make each 
other happy. 

The most unreasonable of Franklin’s impulses had now been 
quieted by this most reasonable of marriages, and he was free to 
turn his whole mind and will to work. 


Nothing in the history of Philadelphia gave Franklin a right to 
expect that the printer’s trade would there be a way to wealth. 
Compared with Boston, the town was backward as to books. Few 
were sold, almost none printed except theological pamphlets and 
almanacs. Keimer, though Franklin ridiculed him, was enterpris- 
ing. His folio history of the Quakers (1728), by William Sewel, was 
the most important book yet published in Pennsylvania, and his 
Epictetus (1729) the first translation of a classic writer published 
in America. He printed paper money in Burlington and he started 
a newspaper in Philadelphia. But when Franklin and Meredith 
left him in the spring of 1728, Keimer was shaky. He was not able 
to compete with Andrew Bradford, who as postmaster could use 
the carriers to distribute his newspaper, and who as printer for the 
government was given profitable work on the laws, minutes, proc- 
lamations, addresses, and ballots issued by authority. If there was 
little room in Philadelphia for a second printer, there must have 
seemed none for a third. 

The third was Benjamin Franklin, who was more than a printer. 
He was the best writer in America. He had the Junto for sworn 
friends and backers. He was bringing to his first business a power- 
ful and ambitious mind which had in it none of Keimer’s eccen- 
tricity or Bradford’s unadventurous security. From the outset 
franklin aimed to pass, or to undo, his rivals. 

chapter 4 PlansforaJ^ewspaper 95 

For three years Keimer had been working on the Sewel, and the 
Quakers were impatient. Breintnal of the Junto, Franklin says, 
“procured us from the Quakers the printing forty sheets of their 
history, the rest being to be done by Keimer.”®® Breintnal may 
have thought of this himself, or he may have been acting on a hint 
from Franklin. The speed of the new printers was an argument 
against Keimer. “I composed ... a sheet a day, and Meredith 
worked it off at press; it was often eleven at night, and sometimes 
later, before I finished my distribution for the next day’s work, for 
the little jobs sent in by our other friends now and then put us 
back. But so determined I was to continue doing a sheet a day of 
the folio that one night when, having imposed my forms, I thought 
my day’s work over, one of them by accident was broken and two 
pages reduced to pie, I immediately distributed it and composed it 
over again before I went to bed; and this industry, visible to our 
neighbours, began to give us character and credit.”®'^ The mer- 
chants at the Every Night Club talked about the promising young 

Franklin, who had worked on the first lively newspaper in 
Boston, planned to begin one in Philadelphia, in competition with 
Bradford’s American Weekly Mercury, In this scheme a member 
of the Junto did Franklin harm. Webb, “who had found a female 
friend that lent him wherewith to purchase his time of Keimer,”®® 
came to Franklin and Meredith looking for employment as a 
journeyman. They could not then afford one, but Franklin thought 
they might later — and let out his secret. Webb took the secret to 
Keimer, who, to get ahead of Franklin, promptly announced a 
newspaper of his own, in October 1728, and in December pub- 
lished the first number of The Universal Instructor in All Arts 
and Sciences: and Pennsylvania Gazette, As Instructor he set out to 
reprint Chambers’s Cyclopedia, fresh from Lx^ndon. As Gazette he 
had an address from the legislature of New Jersey to their governor 
and his reply, some news paragraphs, and one paid advertisement. 
He ran on for thirty-nine numbers, with his Cyclopedia, Defoe's 
Religious Courtship, news and advertisements, and various lighter 
matters, in prose and verse, which made his paper more interesting 
than Bradford’s had been. 

But not as interesting as the Mercury became in February, when 

B6 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

Franklin wrote every week as the Busy-Body, and twice more in 
March before he gave the series over to BreintnaL Franklin wrote 
to tease Keimer, who answered with sputtering abuse, and to keep 
readers away from him, even if they were “fixed on” the Mercury. 
The Busy-Body was easy and humorous, praising virtue and good 
temper. On i8 February he advised “Cretico, thou sour philos- 
opher, thou cunning statesman,” to “neglect those musty authors; 
let them be covered with dust and moulder on their proper 
shelves; and do thou apply thyself to a study much more profitable, 
the knowledge of mankind and of thyself.” The Busy-Body ap- 
proved Cato, “who appeared in the plainest country garb; his 
greatcoat was coarse and looked old and threadbare; his linen was 
homespun; his beard perhaps of seven days’ growth; his shoes thick 
and heavy” — yet who was greeted with respect by every person in 
the room when recently he came to town, to a house where “were 
met men of the most note in this place. ... A mixture of inno- 
cence and wisdom makes him ever seriously cheerful. His generous 
hospitality to strangers, according to his ability; his goodness, his 
charity, his courage in the cause of the oppressed, his fidelity in 
friendship, his humility, his honesty and sincerity, his moderation, 
and his loyalty to the government; his piety, his temperance, his 
love to mankind, his magnanimity, his public-spiritedness, and, 
in fine, his consummate virtue, make him justly deserve to be 
esteemed the glory of his country.”^^ 

The Busy-Body observed little incidents of the common life in 
Philadelphia which plenty of readers must have recognized though 
they were seeing them in print for the first time. There was the 
letter on 25 February from the imagined Patience, a single woman 
who kept a shop and was pestered by the visits of a friend who 
came too often and stayed too long. “She has two children that are 
just big enough to run about and do pretty mischief; these are 
continually along with Mamma, either in my room or shop, if I 
have ever so many customers or people with me about business. 
Sometimes they pull the books off my low shelves down to the 
ground, and perhaps where one of them has just been making 
water. My friend takes up the stuff and cries: ‘Eh, thou little 
wicked mischievous rogue! But, however, it has done no great 
damage; ’tis only wet a little’; and so puts it up upon the shelf 

CHAPTER 4 The Bmy-Body 97 

again. Sometimes they get to my cask of nails behind the counter 
and divert themselves, to my great vexation, with mixing my ten- 
penny and eight-penny and four-penny together. I endeavour to 
conceal my uneasiness as much as possible, and with a grave look 
go to sorting them out. She cries: 'Don’t thee trouble thyself, 
neighbour; let them play a little; I’ll put all to rights myself before 
I go.’ But things are never so put to rights but that I find a great 
deal of work to do after they are gone. Thus, Sir, I have all the 
trouble and pesterment of children without the pleasure of — 
calling them my own.”^® 

The Busy-Body on 27 March prudently ridiculed what seemed 
to the son of Josiah Franklin a grotesque folly: "There are among 
us great numbers of honest artificers and labouring people who, 
fed with a vain hope of growing suddenly rich, neglect their busi- 
ness, almost to the ruining of themselves and families, and volun- 
tarily endure abundance of fatigue in a fruitless search after 
imaginary hidden treasure. They wander through the woods and 
bushes by day, to discover the marks and signs; at midnight they 
repair to the hopeful spot with spades and pickaxes; full of expec- 
tation, they labour violently, trembling at the same time in every 
joint through fear of certain malicious demons who are said to 
haunt and guard such places. At length a mighty hole is dug, and 
perhaps several cartloads of earth thrown out; but, alas, no cag or 
iron pot is found! No seaman’s chest crammed with Spanish 
pistoles or weighty pieces of eight! Then they conclude that, 
through some mistake in the procedure, some rash word spoke, or 
some rule of art neglected, the guardian spirit had power to sink 
it deeper into the earth and convey it out of their reach. . . . 

"This odd humour of digging for money, through a belief that 
much has been hid by pirates formerly frequenting the river, has 
for several years been mighty prevalent among us; insomuch that 
you can hardly walk half a mile out of town on any side without 
observing several pits dug with that design, and perhaps some 
lately opened. Men otherwise of very good sense have been drawn 
into this practice through an overweening desire of sudden wealth 
and an easy credulity of what they so earnestly wished might be 
true; while the rational and almost certain methods of acquiring 
riches by industry and frugality are neglected or forgotten. There 

gg Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

seems to be some peculiar charm in the conceit o£ finding money; 
and if the sands of Schuylkill were so much mixed with small 
grains of gold that a man might in a day’s time, with care and 
application, get together to the value of half a crown, I make no 
question but we should find several people employed there that 
can with ease earn five shillings a day at their proper trades. . . . 

“Let honest Peter Buckram, who has long without success been 
a searcher after hidden money, reflect . . . and be reclaimed from 
this unaccountable folly. Let him consider that every stitch he 
takes, when he is on his shopboard, is picking up part of a grain of 
gold, that will in a few days’ time amount to a pistole; and let 
Faber think the same of every nail he drives or every stroke with 
his plane. Such thoughts may make them industrious, and of con- 
sequence in time they may be wealthy. But how absurd it is to 
neglect a certain profit for such a ridiculous whimsy; to spend 
whole days at the George, in company with an idle pretender to 
astrology, contriving schemes to discover what was never hidden, 
and forget how carelessly business is managed at home in their 
absence; to leave their wives and a warm bed at midnight (no 
matter if it rain, hail, snow, or blow a hurricane, provided that be 
the critical hour), and fatigue themselves with the violent exercise 
of digging for what they shall never find, and perhaps getting a 
cold that may cost their lives, or at least disordering themselves so 
as to be fit for no business beside for some days after. Surely this is 
nothing less than the most egregious folly and madness. 

“I shall conclude with the words of my discreet friend Agricola, 
of Chester County, when he gave his son a good plantation. ‘My 
son,’ says he, ‘I give thee now a valuable parcel of land; I assure 
thee I have found a considerable quantity of gold by digging 
there; thee may’st do the same. But thee must carefully observe 
this: Never to dig more than plough-deep.’ 

Keimer could not write as well as Franklin, any more tbau any 
other American then could. But what drove Keimer out of Phila- 
delphia was less his new rival than his own incompetence and bad 
management. He got deeper and deeper into debt. His creditors 
pressed him, and he loudly called it persecution. Epictetus could 
ncrt: »ve him. He was obliged to sell his newspaper to Franklin, 
and his printing-house to his former apprentice David Harry, 

-CHAPTER 4 ''The Pennsylvania Gazette^* 99 

whom Franklin had taught their trade. '*1 was at first apprehensive 
o£ a powerful rival in Harry, as his friends were very able and had 
a good deal of interest. I therefore proposed a partnership to him 
which he, fortunately for me, rejected with scorn. He was very 
proud, dressed like a gentleman, lived expensively, took much 
diversion and pleasure abroad, ran in debt, and neglected his 
business; upon which, all business left him, and, finding nothing to 
do, he followed Keimer to Barbados, taking the printing-house 
with him.”^2 

On 2. October lysg Franklin began to issue the newspaper with 
the simpler title The Pennsylvania Gazette, He dropped the ency- 
clopsedia and Defoe from its columns, limited it more strictly to 
the actual concerns of Pennsylvanians, wrote much for it himself, 
in time enormously increased the advertisements, and printed it 
with skill and some taste. ‘'To publish a good newspaper,” he said 
in his first preface, “is not so easy an undertaking as many people 
imagine it to be. The author of a gazette (in the opinion of the 
learned) ought to be qualified with an extensive acquaintance with 
languages, a great easiness and command of writing and relating 
things clearly and intelligibly, and in few words; he should be able 
to speak of war both by land and sea; be well acquainted with 
geography, with the history of the time, with the several interests 
of princes and states, the secrets of courts, and the manners and 
customs of all nations. Men thus accomplished are very rare in this 
remote part of the world.”^® Franklin hoped he might have all 
possible assistance from his friends. 

But for many issues of the Gazette he was writer as well as 
printer. He wrote or rewrote the foreign and domestic news. He 
wrote letters to himself as editor and answered them. He wrote 
humorous squibs and advertisements. Both his former experience 
with the New England Courant and his maturing temper kept him 
discreet in what he said about the civil authorities. The clergy 
could not complain of A Witch Trial at Mount Holly in the 
Gazette for 22 October 1730.^^ Such actions were as ridiculous as 
this broad report of them. In matters of religion the Gazette was 
neither scoffing nor partisan. Yet Franklin was always insistent on 
the freedom of the press, and in An Apology for Printers on 10 
June 1731^® he made his position clear. Men have many opinions. 

100 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

he said, and printers print them as a part of their business. They 
are “educated in the belief that when men differ in opinion, both 
sides ought equally to have the advantage of being heard by the 
public; and that when truth and error have fair play, the former is 
always an overmatch for the latter. Hence they cheerfully serve all 
contending writers that pay them well, without regarding on 
which side they are of the question in dispute. ... If all printers 
were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would 
offend nobody, there w'ould be very little printed.” And there are 
more bad and foolish things left unprinted than are ever printed. 

With Keimer out of the way, Franklin had only Andrew Brad 
ford for a rival. Bradford was postmaster and he ordered his 
carriers not to take the Gazette to its subscribers. Franklin bribed 
them to carry it secretly. Bradford did all the government printing 
and made money by it. Franklin and Meredith in the first month 
of the Gazette voluntarily printed an address from the Assembly to 
the governor, which had been officially printed by Bradford, and 
sent it to every member. Their work was so much better than 
Bradford’s that the members “were sensible of the difference; it 
strengthened the hands of our friends in the House; and they 
voted us their printer”^® for 1730. From that time on Franklin 
was the printer for Pennsylvania. This was less than two years after 
Franklin and Meredith had set up their uncertain business. 

Meredith had been little help. He was a poor workman and had 
gone back to drinking. His father, who was to have advanced two 
hundred pounds, had paid only half of it to the merchant who had 
imported their equipment from London and who now brought 
suit for the rest. In this trouble Franklin was heartened by his 
Junto friends Grace and Coleman, who each separately came to 
him and offered to let him have the money, but hoped he could 
get rid of Hugh Meredith, “who, as they said, was often seen drunk 
in the streets, and playing at low games in alehouses, much to our 
discredit.”^’^ Franklin could hardly suggest this to Meredith. For 
once Meredith helped. He said he could see he would never be a 
printer, and he wanted to go back to farming. If Franklin would 
repay the hundred pounds to the elder Meredith, assume the firm’s 
debts and settle Hugh Meredith’s personal debts, and give him 
thirty pounds and a new saddle on which to ride away to North 

CHAPTER 4 The Complete Tradesman 101 

Carolina where land was cheap, he would turn over the whole 
business to his partner. Franklin borrowed half of what was 
needed, and had been offered, from Grace and half from Coleman, 
and the partnership was quietly dissolved 14 July 1730, 

To the public eye of Philadelphia Franklin now became the 
complete tradesman. “In order to secure my credit and charac- 
ter I took care not only to be in reality industrious and 
frugal but to avoid all appearances to the contrary. I dressed 
plainly; I was seen at no places of idle diversion. I never went out 
a-fishing or shooting; a book, indeed, sometimes debauched me 
from my work, but that was seldom, snug, and gave no scandal; 
and, to show that I was not above my business, I sometimes brought 
home the paper I purchased at the stores through the streets on a 

This is the first of the roles that Franklin strategically assumed 
as he was to assume others later. For his character was never of one 
single piece, like, for example, Washington's. Franklin's was rich, 
flexible, dramatic. Personally ambitious, he was no less truly eager 
for the general good. Able to aim at moral perfection for himself, 
he was not in the least ascetic and he did not desire to isolate him- 
self from the common life. He could be metaphysical when he 
cared to. In the very year he got rid of his partner Franklin wrote 
a speculative essay on prayer, though he did not print it. “The 
great uncertainty I found in metaphysical reasonings disgusted 
me, and I quitted that kind of reading and study for others more 
satisfactory."^® But he remained a moralist, loving goodness and 
wisdom. He was not satisfied to think them out. He wanted to act 
and see them acted out. Desirable ends do not come of themselves. 
Men must conceive them, believe in them, further them, and 
execute them. Franklin was perfectly willing to bring touches of 
drama into his undertakings — even when, as at first, his end was 
only his reputation as a tradesman in a provincial town. 

However wholly Franklin gave himself to his business he did 
not give up the Junto, which was his business too. During the 
winter of 172 8-2 9 the members debated the question of paper 
money, which all the province was talking about. The balance of 
transatlantic trade was against Pennsylvania, and gold and silver 
were steadily drawn to England, leaving money scarce and prices 

IQg Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

and interest high. Six years earlier the currency shortage had been 
relieved by a small issue of paper money, which was now to be 
called in. People who had money were opposed to the issue of 
further paper, for fear of inflation, which had taken place in New 
England and South Carolina. Debtors, traders, and workmen were 
in favour of a still larger issue. Franklin — debtor, trader, and 
workman — took his stand with them and broke off the Busy-Body 
papers to write A Modest Enquiry into the Nature and Necessity 
of a Paper Currency, which, dated 3 April 1729, was probably the 
first publication of the new firm. Unlike conservative economists, 
he saw that gold and silver were in themselves commodities, bought 
and sold like any other. “The riches of a country are to be valued 
by the quantity of labour its inhabitants are able to purchase, and 
not by the quantity of silver and gold they possess. . . . Trade in 
general being nothing else but the exchange of labour for labour, 
the value of things is . . . most justly measured by labour.” 
Pennsylvania had little gold and silver as security for paper, but it 
had land. "As bills issued upon money security are money, so bills 
issued upon land are, in effect, coined land.” With this basic prin- 
ciple and this happy phrase — “coined land” — Franklin adroitly 
argued for the need of a more plentiful medium of exchange, to 
benefit land, labour, and trade. As he had read moralists and meta- 
physicians, so had he, at twenty-three, read economists: particu- 
larly, it seems. Sir William Petty. But he had made his own obser- 
vations and he wrote out of a local experience which his readers 
understood. “It was well received by the common people in gen- 
eral; but the rich men disliked it, for it increased and strengthened 
the clamour for more money, and they happening to have no 
writers among them that were able to answer it, their opposition 
slackened, and the point was carried by a majority in the House. 
My friends there, who conceived I had been of some service, 
thought fit to reward me by employing me in printing the money: 
a very profitable job and a great help to me. This was another 
advantage gained by my being able to write.”®^ In the summer of 
1731 he had planned to go to Boston, he told his sister, but “print- 
ing the paper money here has hindered me near two months.”®^ 
Franklin, with or without Meredith, was never an adventurous 
publisher of books. In his first year he published Isaac Watts’s 

CHAPTER 4 Publisher of Books 103 

Psalms, which, he noted, did not sell as fast as Robin Hood's Songs 
by another printer. Franklin’s German hymn book — the first 
printed in America — ^was aimed at the Germans in Pennsylvania^, 
for whom in May 1732 he started the first German-American news- 
paper, the Philadelphische Zeitung edited by Louis Timothee, 
“language master,” and short-lived. The Batchelors-Hall of George 
Webb in 1731 and the single-sheet Almanacs of Thomas Godfrey 
in 1729, 1730, 1731 (each for the following year) were by Junto 
members. On the whole Franklin published books chiefly for profit 
or for friendship, sometimes both at once. James Logan, the most 
eminent of the Quakers and the best scholar in Pennsylvania, had 
at first suspected the Junto and had written to Penn that the 
Leather Apron men were tools of Sir William Keith. Franklin 
soon made friends with Logan, and published his translations of 
Cato's Moral Distichs (1735) and of Cato Major (1744), which 
Franklin thought his masterpiece in the printer’s art. The Consti- 
tutions of the Free-Masons (1734) — the first Masonic book printed 
in America — ^was for the members of the order, of which he 
became grand master in that same year. Every Man His Own 
Doctor (1734) and The Gentleman's Farrier (1735) were for profit 
and were profitable. Cadwallader Golden’s An Explication of the 
First Causes of Motion in Matter (1745, with the actual imprint 
of Franklin’s partner in New York) was partly for friendship, 
as was Aquila Rose’s Poems on Several Occasions (1740), edited by 
Joseph Rose, who was Franklin’s apprentice. Jonathan Edwards’s 
Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God (1742), 
Increase Mather’s Soul-Saving Gospel Truths (1743), and The 
New England Psalter (1744) were acts of piety for what Franklin 
called his native country. Defoe’s Family Instructor (1740) and 
Richardson’s Pamela (1744) — this the first novel published in 
America — ^were, though profitable too, tributes from Franklin to 
another projector and another printer. Nine-tenths of what Frank- 
lin printed, outside his official printing of legislative records, laws, 
treaties, his newspaper, and his almanacs, was theological and 
ephemeral. The most memorable books bearing his imprint (or 
Franklin and Hall’s) now seem to be the folio Indian treaties, rich 
documents of vanished nations. 

But he imported many b«oks to sell in his shop. *‘If Mr. Wan 

jy4 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

burton,” Franklin wrote in 1744 to his friend William Strahan in 
London, “publishes a new edition of Pope, please to send it me as 
soon as it is out, 6 sets. That poet has many admirers here, and the 
reflection he somewhere casts on the plantations [colonies] as if 
they had a relish for such writers as Ward only, is injurious. Your 
authors know but little of the fame they have on this side of the 
ocean. We are a kind of posterity in respect to them. We read their 
tvorks with perfect impartiality, being at too great a distance to be 
biased by the factions, parties, and prejudices that prevail among 
you. We know nothing of their personal failings; the blemishes in 
their character never reach us, and therefore the bright and amiable 
part strikes us with its full force. They have never offended us or 
any of our friends, and we have no competitions with them; there- 
fore we praise and admire them without restraint. Whatever 
Thomson writes send me a dozen copies of. I had read no poetry 
for several years, and almost lost the relish of it, till I met with his 
Seasons. That charming poet has brought more tears of pleasure 
into my eyes than all I ever read before. I wish it were in my power 
to return him any part of the joy he has given me.”®® The same 
year Franklin issued a catalogue of “near 600 volumes” which he 
would sell “for ready money only” at the post office. They were 
books of divinity, history, law, mathematics, philosophy, physic, 
and poetry, in various languages, in folio, quarto, and octavo, and 
the titles represent the whole literature of the age. 

Though Franklin in his earliest years as a tradesman might 
read in a way that was “snug, and gave no scandal,” he was actually 
an avid, powerful reader of many books. There were always books 
in his inner life, books in his business, books in his friendships. At 
the Junto in 1730 he made a suggestion: “that, since our books 
were often referred to in our disquisitions upon the queries, it 
might be convenient to us to have them all together where we met, 
that upon occasion they might be consulted; and by thus clubbing 
our books to a common library, we should, while we liked to keep 
them together, have each of us the advantage of using the books of 
all the other members, which would be nearly as beneficial as if 
each owned the whole. It was liked and agreed to, and we filled 
one end of the room with such books as we could best spare. The 
number was not so great as we expected; and though they had been 

CHAPTER 4 The Library Company 105 

of great use, yet some inconveniences occurring for want of due 
care of them, the collection, after about a year, was separated and 
each took his books home again/'®^ 

Franklin had a better plan. Why should the Junto not organize 
a subscription library for its own members and any other citizens 
of Philadelphia who might care to join with them? The Junto 
agreed. Franklin worked out the details of the scheme, Charles 
Brockden the scrivener put them in form, and the Instrument of 
Association was signed i July 1731. There were fifty subscribers 
who each paid in forty shillings and promised to pay ten shillings 
a year. Franklin’s name stood first on the board of directors, who 
held their initial meeting at Nicholas SculFs house 8 November 
1731. At the meeting of 29 March 1732 Thomas Godfrey reported 
that James Logan would be glad to give advice in the selection of 
their books. Two days later they had the list and forty-five pounds, 
which they sent off to Peter Collinson, a Quaker mercer in London 
who had friends in Philadelphia and xvas interested in American 

The books came in October. On this or the second list were 
Pufendorf on jurisprudence, Hayes on fluxions, Keill on astron- 
omy, Sidney on government, L’Hospital on conic sections, Grave- 
sande on natural philosophy; Palladio, Evelyn, Addison, Xeno- 
phon’s Memorabilia, Defoe’s Compleat English Tradesman, 
Gullivefs Travels, the Spectator, Tatler, Guardian, Homer’s Iliad 
and Odyssey, Dryden’s Virgil, Bayle’s Critical Dictionary; and 
Collinson’s gifts: Newton’s Principia and a dictionary of gardening. 
Franklin gave Montaigne’s Essays and a black-letter reprint of the 
Magna Charta. They were installed in the Junto’s quarters in 
Jones’s Alley (or Pewter Platter Alley, now Church Street), where 
Louis Timothee was the Junto’s fellow-tenant. He was chosen to be 
librarian, in attendance from two to three every Wednesday, and 
from ten to four on Saturdays. Any '‘civil gentlemen” might read 
the books, but only subscribers could take them out — and James 
Logan. Franklin on 1 1 December offered to print catalogues and 
present them to the members. The next year he was librarian for 
three months. The library had its headquarters at Grace’s house, 
then William Parsons’s, till April 1740 when it was moved to a 
room in the State House on a petition drawn up bv Franklin, now 

Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

clerk of the Assembly. He xvas its agent in London 1760-65. Ab- 
sorbing the rival libraries in Philadelphia in 1769, the Library 
Company became a permanent memorial to the club of artisans 
and tradesmen who founded it, and to their leader who was not 
content to use and enjoy his books alone. 

On 11 May 1732 the Gazette appeared for the first time as pub- 
lished by B. Franklin, not by Franklin and Meredith. The firm 
had so far not seemed secure enough to risk making it known that 
the venture was wholly in the hands of one young man without 
capital. Now the young man, now twenty-six, had paid or saw his 
way clear to paying all his debts: to Vernon (whose thirty-five 
pounds had haunted Franklin since 1724), to the elder Meredith, 
to Grace and Coleman. Throughout his life Franklin acutely 
dreaded debt, as a form of slavery. Yet he had had a shorter experi- 
ence of it than most men. Only four years after he set up in business 
he was his own master. 


For Franklin 1732 was a busy and crucial year. His Gazette was 
profitable, and he had a hand in other Gazettes in South Carolina 
and Rhode Island. He was printer to Pennsylvania and printer on 
his own account. Besides the Junto there was the new library. 
Through the library and the Masons he was widening his ac- 
quaintance among Philadelphians more prominent than his 
Leather Apron friends. At home he had a shop in part of his 
house, where his wife helped him sell books and stationery and 
his mother-in-law sold the salves and ointments which she made. 
On 20 October his son Francis Folger was born. But all these were 
not enough, nor the letters which Franklin wrote for the Gazette 
that summer as from Anthony Afterwit, Celia Single, Alice Adder- 
tongue.®® He wanted another outlet and another income, and, 
perhaps without realizing it, another character to play. He found 
them in the almanac which he published for the first time in 
December, in the character of Poor Richard. 

Books might sell, almanacs were sure to. Many households in 
the colonies had no printed matter besides an almanac, but almost 


The JTew Almanac 


every one of them had that. An almanac had been the first thing 
printed in Pennsylvania, by William Bradford for Daniel Leeds. 
Almanacs, pocket-size and paper-bound, calculated the tides and 
the changes of the moon, and claimed to forecast the weather. 
Almanacs were calendars. They furnished astrology for those who 
believed in it. There were sometimes recipes in almanacs, and 
jokes and poems and maxims and odd facts of many sorts. The 
skimpy margins of the calendar pages were a diary. Children 
might learn to read from almanacs. The printer of a successful 
almanac could make money, and the compiler of it a reputation. 
Andrew Bradford had long issued the annual American Almanac 
of Titan Leeds. Another son of Daniel Leeds, Felix Leeds, was an 
almanac-maker too. Keimer had undertaken almanacs. And Frank- 
lin himself had published not only Thomas Godfrey’s almanac 
for three years but also John Jerman’s for 1731 and 1732. 

Almanacs usually appeared in October or November for the 
following year. Franklin was late with his Poor Richard^ ^ 733 * The 
Gazette announced it as just published 19 December 1732 at five- 
pence a copy. Within three weeks there had had to be three impress 
sions, and Richard Saunders quickly passed all his rival philo- 
maths. The imaginary astrologer probably took his full name from 
an actual English Richard Saunders, compiler of the Apollo Angli- 
canus, though Denham’s account book lists a Philadelphia Richard 
Saunders as one of the firm’s customers. The suggestion of the 
more common name Poor Richard may have come from the Poor 
Robin almanac which James Franklin was issuing at Newport. 
The prophecy in the first Poor Richard that Titan Leeds would 
die 17 October 1733 is a deliberate echo of Swift’s hoax on John 
Partridge twenty-five years before — Swift’s hoax brought to Penn- 
sylvania and persisted in by Franklin for years. But the essence of 
Poor Richard, his humorous, homely character, was Franklin’s 
own creation. Here are Richard’s opening words; “I might in this 
place attempt to gain thy favour by declaring that I write almanacs 
with no other view than that of the public good; but in that I 
should not be sincere, and men are now-a-days too wise to be 
deceived by pretences how specious soever. The plain truth of the 
matter is, I am excessive poor, and my wife, good woman, is, I tell 
her, excessive proud; she cannot bear, she says, to sit spinning in 

108 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

her shift of tow while I do nothing but gaze at the stars; and has 
threatened more than once to burn all my books and rattling-traps 
(as she calls my instruments) if I do not make some profitable use 
of them for the good of my family. The printer has offered me 
some considerable share of the profits, and I have thus begun to 
comply with my dame’s desire.”^® 

The next year Poor Richard was grateful for the profits he had 
made. “My wife has been enabled to get a pot of her own, and is 
no longer obliged to borrow one from a neighbour; nor have we 
ever since been without something of our own to put in it. She has 
also got a pair of shoes, two new shifts, and a new warm petticoat; 
and, for my part, I have bought a second-hand coat, so good that I 
am now not ashamed to go to town or be seen there. These things 
have rendered her temper so much more pacific than it used to be 
that I may say I have slept more, and more quietly, within this last 
year than in the three foregoing years put together.”®^ His verses on 
feminine idleness in his almanac for 1733 were answered by her 
verses on masculine worthlessness in the almanac for 1734. The 
little tiff was kept up between them. In Poor Richard for 1738 the 
preface appeared as by Bridget Saunders, who had scratched out 
what Richard had written. “Cannot I have a little fault or two but 
all the country must see it in print?”^® She had gone through the 
whole almanac in his absence and had put in better weather “for 
the goodwomen to dry their clothes in.” Nor did she like some of 
his verses. He himself, he admitted in 1747, did not think too 
highly of them. “I know as well as thee that I am no poet born; 
and it is a trade I never learnt, nor indeed could learn.”^^ He did 
not claim infallibility in his weather forecasts. “We modestly desire 
only the favourable allowance of a day or two before and a day or 
two after the precise day against which the weather is set.”®^ Poor 
Richard was resentful toward people who said there was no such 
man as he. “This is not civil treatment, to endeavour to deprive 
me of my very being and reduce me to a nonentity in the opinion 
of the public. But so long as I know myself to walk about, eat, 
drink, and sleep, I am satisfied that there is really such a man as 
I am.”®^ People who began to say, after half a dozen years, that he 
must have grown rich were equally wrong. His printer “runs away 
with the greatest part of the profit.”®^ He suffered from the jealousy 


**Poor Richard** 


of rival philomaths, and was for ever pestered by persons who 
wanted private astrological advice from him. ‘‘The perpetual 
teasing of both neighbours and strangers to calculate nativities, 
give judgments on schemes, erect figures, discover thieves, detect 
horse-stealers, describe the route of runaways and strayed cattle; 
the crowd of visitors with a thousand trifling questions: Will my 
ship return safe? Will my mare win the race? Will her next colt be a 
pacer? When will my wife die? Who shall be my husband, and how 
long first? When is the best time to cut hair, trim cocks, or sow 
salad? These and the like impertinences I have now neither taste 
nor leisure for. I have had enough of ’em.”®^ He preferred to live 
quietly in the country, telling no one where. 

The almanac for 1748 and afterwards was called Poor Richard 
Improved, and was larger than before. It had become an institu- 
tion. It sold ten thousand copies a year. Franklin in 1757, writing 
his preface for 1758, skimmed his almanacs for twenty-five years to 
make up a single harangue which Poor Richard said he had heard 
an old man deliver at an auction. This is The Way to Wealth, 
which stands with the Autobiography as the best and farthest 
Known of all Franklin’s writings, and which has been taken for 
the essence of his wisdom. 

it is not that, and it gives only one aspect of the younger 
Franklin. Father Abraham at the auction is an old man talking 
about economy. He has chosen from Poor Richard the sayings 
which specially prove his point, and left out the rest. Having the 
last word, he has had almost the only word. The Way to Wealth 
has been endlessly reprinted, while the original almanacs were 
most of them worn out and thrown away, and the few that have 
survived are guarded like the bullion they are worth. Every- 
body knows the Poor Richard that has been saved in Father 
Abraham’s speech. Nobody knows Poor Richard as he was in the 
racy years which made him known to his contemporaries. Franklin, 
remembering, said he had filled “all the little spaces” with “pro- 
verbial sentences, chiefly such as inculcated industry and frugality, 
as the means of procuring wealth and thereby securing virtue.”®^ 
Poor Richard for 1739 had put the matter differently. “Be not 
thou disturbed, O grave and sober reader, if among the many 
serious sentences in my book thou findest me trifling now and then . 

no Benjamin Frandin Philadelphia 

and talking idly. In all the dishes I have hitherto cooked for thee, 
there is solid meat enough for thy money. There are scraps from 
the table of wisdom that will, if well digested, yield strong nourish- 
ment to thy mind. But squeamish stomachs cannot eat without 
pickles; which, ’tis true, are good for nothing else, but they pro- 
voke an appetite.”® 

The earlier Poor Richard tras by no means always on the side of 
calculating prudence. “Never spare the parson’s wine nor the 
baker’s pudding” (1733). “Innocence is its own defence” (1733). 
“As charms are nonsense, nonsense is a charm” (1734). “What one 
relishes, nourishes” (1734)- “He does not possess wealth; it pos- 
sesses him” (1734). “Avarice and happiness never saw each other. 
How then should they become acquainted?” (1734). “Poverty 
wants some things, luxury many things, avarice all things” (1735). 
“There’s more old drunkards than old doctors” (1736). “Wealth 
is not his that has it, but his that enjoys it” (1736). “He that can 
take rest is greater than he that can take cities” (1737)- “Hast thou 
virtue? Acquire also the graces and beauties of virtue” (1738). 

Poor Richard could say: “Nothing but money is sweeter than 
honey” (1735), but he spoke of many things besides. “KJngs and 
bears often worry their keepers” (1733). “Hunger never saw bad 
bread” (1733). “Eat to live, and not live to eat” (1733). “Men and 
melons are hard to know” (1733). “There is no little enemy” 
(1733). “He’s a fool that makes his doctor his heir” (1733). “The 
heart of the fool is in his mouth, but the mouth of the wise man is 
in his heart” (1733'). “He that drinks fast pays slow” (1733). “Do 
good to thy friend to keep him, to thy enemy to gain him” (1734). 
“Where there’s marriage without love there will be love without 
marriage” (1734). “He that is rich need not live sparingly, and he 
that can live sparingly need not be rich” (1734). “Approve not of 
him who commends all you say” (1735). “The family of fools is 
ancient” (1735)- “Look before or you’ll find yourself behind” 
(1735)- “A lie stands on one leg, truth on two” (1735). “Sloth and 
silence are a fool’s virtues” (1735). “Deny self for self’s sake” (1735). 
“Opportunity is the great bawd” (1735). “An old young man will 
be a young old man” (i 735 )‘ “He is no clown that drives the 
plough, but he that doth clownish things” (1736). “Now I have a 
sheep and a cow, everybody bids me good morrow” (1736). “The 

CHAPTER 4 Many Maxims HI 

rotten apple spoils his companions’* (1736). “Fish and visitors 
smell in three days” (1736). “He that has neither fools nor beggars 
among his kindred is the son of thunder-gust” (1736). “Admira- 
tion [wonder] is the daughter of ignorance” (1736). “Bargaining 
has neither friends nor relations” (1736). “He that can have pa- 
tience can have what he will” (1736). “None preaches better than 
the ant, and she says nothing” (1736), “The absent are never with- 
out fault, nor the present without excuse” (1736). “Poverty, poetry, 
and new titles of honour make men ridiculous” (1736). “A country- 
man between two lawyers is like a fish between two cats” (1737). 
“Love and lordship hate companions” (1737). “There are ugly 
loves nor handsome prisons” (1737). “The worst wheel of the cart 
makes the most noise” (1737). “Write with the learned, pronounce 
with the vulgar” (1738). “If you would not be forgotten as soon as 
you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading or do 
things worth the writing” (1738). “Defer not thy well doing; be 
not like St. George, who is always a-horseback and never rides on” 
(1738). “As we must account for every idle word, so we must for 
every idle silence” (1738). “Fly pleasures and they’ll follow you” 
(1738). “Time is an herb that cures all diseases” (1738). “He that 
would have a short Lent, let him borrow money to be repaid at 
Easter” (1738). “Eat to please thyself, but dress to please others” 
(1738). “The ancients tell us what is best; but we must learn from 
the moderns what is fittest” (1738). 

Poor Richard in these gamy years spoke often of women, ten- 
derly and cynically in turn. “A house without a woman and fire- 
light is like a body without soul or sprite” (1733). 

You cannot pluck roses without fear of thorns. 

Nor enjoy a fair wife without danger of horns (1734). 

“Neither a fortress nor a m d will hold out long after they 

begin to parley” (1734). “Marry your son when you will, but your 
daughter when you can” (1734). “A little house well filled, a little 
field well tilled, and a little wife well willed, are great riches” 


When [Mars] and 9 [Venus] in conjunction He, 

Then, maids, whate’er is asked of you deny (1735) « 

112 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

“A ship under sail and a big-bellied woman are the handsomest 
two things that can be seen common” (i735)- “Let thy maidservant 
be faithful, strong, and homely” (1736). “He that takes a wife takes 
care” (1736). “Why does the blind man’s wife paint herself?” (1736). 
“Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, half shut afterwards” 


These varied sayings run through Poor Richard side by side with 
the stricter — and some of them later — ^maxims of prudence that 
Franklin put into Father Abraham’s summary. (Those marked 
with a star are thought to be original with Franklin.®®) “Fools 
make feasts, and wdse men eat them” (1733). “Early to bed and 
early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise” (1735). “Keep 
thy shop, and thy shop will keep thee” (i 735 )- “God helps them 
that help themselves” (1736). “Creditors have better memories than 
debtors” (1736). *“An empty bag cannot stand upright” (1740). 
*“The sleeping fox catches no poultry. Up! Up!” (1743). *“If 
you’d have it done, go; if not, send” (1743). * “Experience keeps a 
dear school, yet fools will learn in no other” (1743). *“The used 
key is always bright” (1744). “When the well’s dry, we know the 
worth of water” (1746). “For want of a nail the shoe is lost; for 
want of a shoe the horse is lost; for want of a horse the rider is 
lost” (1752). “In the affairs of this world, men are saved not by 
faith but by the want of it” (1754). *“Three removes is as bad as a 
fire” (1758). 

Poor Richard took wisdom and wit where he could find them: 
from Dryden, Pope, Prior, Gay, Swift, Bacon, La Rochefoucauld, 
Rabelais, and many other known masters. There are sayings in 
Latin, Spanish, French, German, and Welsh. The rustic philos- 
opher drew also on the stream of popular adages, whether already 
gathered into printed collections or still only current in ordinary 
speech. In this profusion and uncertainty of sources Poor Richard 
never hesitated to rework his texts to suit his purpose and his 
audience. Whatever passed through Franklin’s mind brought 
away some of its qualities and its flavour. Writing, he thought, 
should be “smooth, clear, and short.” The Scottish proverb: “Fat 
housekeepers make lean executors” he simplified to: “A fat 
kitchen, a lean will” (1733). Another proverb ran in its Scottish 
version: “A gloved cat was never a good hunter”; and in an English 

CHAPTER 4 Rabdais in Pennsylvania 113 

version: “A muffled cat is no good mouser.” Franklin sharpened it: 
“The cat in gloves catches no mice” (1754). To what had been: 
“Many strokes fell great oaks” Franklin gave a more pointed 
antithesis: “Little strokes fell great oaks” (1751). “Three may keep 
counsel if two of them are away” became in his handling more 
cynical, and plainer, as: “Three may keep a secret if two of them 
are dead” (1735)- There was a stock saying: “Good wits jump” 
which Swift put into the mouth of one of his foolish talkers in 
Genteel ajid Ingenious Conversation, Franklin laughingly drama- 
tized it: “Great wits jump, says the poet, and hit his head against 
the post” (1735)* ‘‘The king's cheese goes half away in parings” was 
an old fling at the wastefulness of courts. Franklin made another 
application: “The king’s cheese is half wasted in parings; but no 
matter, ’tis made of the people’s milk” (1735). And in one of his 
proverbs Franklin, proverbial for prudence, took the imprudent 
side An Italian proverb had been translated into English as: “It is 
better to have an egg today than tomorrow a hen.” Thomas Fuller 
in 1732 had firmly turned it to: “It is better to have a hen tomorrow 
than an egg today.” Franklin turned it back to the spendthrift: “An 
egg today is better than a hen tomorrow” (1734). 

There is one larger example of Franklin’s method with his 
sources. In the almanac for 1739 he gave a True Prognostication 
which came direct from the Pantagruelian Prognostication at the 
end of the Urquhart-Motteux version of Rabelais. Of the eclipses 
of the year Pantagruel says in a rush of words: “Saturn will 
be retrograde, Venus direct. Mercury unfixed as quicksilver. . . - 
For this reason the crabs will go sidelong and the rope-makers 
backward . . . bacon will run away from pease in Lent; the belly 
will waddle before; the bum will sit down first,* there will be not a 
bean left in a twelfth-cake, nor an ace in a flush; the dice will not 
run as you wish, though you cog them • . . brutes shall speak in 
several places; Shrovetide will have its day . . . such a hurly-burly 
was never seen since the devil was a little boy; and there will be 
above seven-and-twenty irregular verbs made this year, if Priscian 
do not hold them in. If God do not help us, we shall have our 
hands and hearts full,” Poor Richard, writing for cramped pages, 
had to be brief. Writing for Pennsylvania, he left out the Catholic 
and medieval touches in Pantagruel, and put American notes in 

[14 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

their place. “During the first visible eclipse/' he wrote, “Saturn is 
retrograde; for which reason the crabs will go sidelong and the 

rope-makers backward. The belly will wag before, and the a 

shall sit down first. Mercury will have his share in these affairs, and 
so confound the speech of people that when a Pennsylvanian 
would say panther he shall say painter. When a New Yorker thinks 
to say this he shall say diss. And the people in New England and 
Cape May will not be able to say cow for their lives, but will be 
forced to say keow by a certain involuntary twist in the root of 
their tongues. No Connecticut man nor Marylander will be able 
to open his mouth this year but Sir shall be the first or the last 
syllable he pronounces, and sometimes both. Brutes shall speak in 
many places, and there will be above seven-and-twenty irregular 
verbs made this year, if grammar don't interpose. — ^Who can help 
these misfortunes!” And so on through the prognostication, fitting 
the original to fresh uses. 

Franklin, creating the character of Poor Richard, also assumed 
it, as another role like that of the complete tradesman. The rising 
philosopher could not be for ever in his leather apron, behind his 
conscious wheelbarrow. He wanted to speak out. Young, he might 
not be listened to in his own person. As Poor Richard he had a 
dramatic licence to speak as he chose. He could pretend to be an 
astrologer and yet make fun of superstition. He could pretend to 
be old and wise, packing his almanac with wisdom in the verses 
and proverbs which were all he had space for. If he laid fiequent 
stress on prudence, that was in part because the folk-wisdom on 
which he drew is largely prudence, which is the ordinary wisdom 
of ordinary men. At the same time, Franklin believed in prudence. 
He was not a mystic but a moralist, and the first law of his nature 
was order. Order in human life, he held, begins in the daily habits 
of men looking out for themselves. They must work to be happy, 
and save to be secure. There were plenty of mysteries about men, 
but industry and frugality were not mysterious. A man who prac- 
tised them might go beyond them to more important things, as 
Franklin aimed to. Industry and frugality were the simple, natural 
road to freedom. 

Franklin could see that the times called for Poor Richard's 

CHAPTER 4 Prudence with Charm 115 

counsel. Philadelphia had not yet become what he helped to make 
it. Besides the orderly Quakers and Germans there were many 
immigrants to that hopeful town who had been misfits in Europe 
and did not soon adjust themselves in America. They looked for 
the sudden riches they had been told about. They hunted for 
buried treasure. Disappointed, they drifted off to the back coun- 
try or to the West Indies. Because some men profited by specula- 
tion, many men speculated, wasting time and money. In the short- 
age of skilled labour, so much work was badly done that the pride 
of craftsmanship was lost. People who had had no chance to save 
in England did not learn to save in Pennsylvania. They waited for 
miracles. Franklin, bred in settled Boston, felt that Philadelphia 
must be industrious and frugal before it could be anything else. 
This middle way was the xvay of the new w^orld. Few men of privi- 
lege had come from Europe to America. They had not needed to 
emigrate. Few of the helpless European poor had come. They had 
not been able to. The colonists were “middling people” and they 
must work and save if they were to survive and prosper. Franklin 
as Poor Richard was merely insisting that the first thing to build in 
their house was the plain foundation. But with how much wit and 
charm he insisted! 


After 1732 the separate currents of Franklin’s life drew gradually 
together in the single, broad stream which was his character mov- 
ing through history. He had investigated his own mind till he 
knew it and was at home there. His physical existence was estab' 
lished in a comfortable marriage. Troubled by neither meta- 
physics nor lust, he turned from introspection to “more satisfactory 
studies.” In 1733 he began to teach himself languages. He learned 
enough French, Italian, and Spanish to read what he w'anted of 
them, and to make Latin easier. He learned to read German. Of 
these he could speak and write only French, inaccurately, but he 
commanded them all for his special object, which was to extend his 
knowledge in any humane direction. If the centre of his world was 


1 1$ Benjamin Franklin 

Philadelphia, he would make it the centre of a large and liberal 

How close together his business and his friendships ran appears 
from the accounts^® he kept and from the minutes of the Library 
Company. A compositor whom Franklin had known in London, 
Thomas Whitemarsh, came to Philadelphia and took Meredith’s 
place some time in 1730. The next year the Assembly of South 
Carolina voted a bounty of £1000 to encourage a printer to set up 
there. Franklin shipped Whitemarsh off to Charleston in Septem- 
ber with “a. printing-house and materials.” The two were to be 
partners in the business and, presumably, in the bounty. The 
Assembly preferred another printer, the governor thought White- 
marsh the better workman. (Franklin even at a distance had a way 
with governors.) The bounty went to the rival, who had come from 
Boston, but he died in 1732 and left Whitemarsh sole printer to 
the government and editor of the South Carolina Gazette, started 8 
January on the model of the Gazette in Philadelphia. Whitemarsh 
died of yellow fever in September 1733. South Carolina voted 
another bounty of £1000. Franklin sent Louis Timothee (who 
began to call himself Lewis Timothy) to Charleston. 

Timothee was a French Protestant, married to a Dutch woman 
in Holland, who had come to Philadelphia in September 1731 
and in October had advertised himself in Franklin’s newspaper as 
ready to give lessons in French. He was one of the deserving new- 
comers whom the Junto encouraged. Being a printer, he seems to 
have succeeded Whitemarsh as Franklin’s journeyman, and the 
following May had charge of the experimental, unsuccessful Phila- 
delphische Zeitung. Living with his family in the house where the 
Junto met, he was chosen to be the Library Company’s first li- 
brarian. When he went to South Carolina late in 1733, the terms of 
agreement were that Franklin should pay one-third of the expenses 
of the six-year partnership and take one-third of the profit. Tim- 
othy revived the South Carolina Gazette, became public printer, 
and published the laws of the province, with a few pamphlets and 
John Wesley's earliest Collection of Psalms and Hymns (1737). 
Franklin admired Timothy’s learning but wished he were more 
systematic in his accounts. His widow, after Timothy died in 1738, 
ably carried on the partnership and bought the business for her 

CHAPTER 4 Friends and Enterprises 111 

son Peter. Franklin’s influence did not end with his partnership. 
Peter Timothy helped found a library in Charleston in 1743, 
urged and defended the use of the lightning rod. He became pro- 
vincial postmaster and clerk of the South Carolina Assembly, who 
corresponded with Franklin in London on public affairs and told 
him about his namesake Benjamin Franklin Timothy.®^ 

A George Webb, perhaps the Junto’s tricky Oxford scholar, 
applied for the first South Carolina bounty and got no part of it. 
Stephen Potts remained in Philadelphia as Franklin’s bookbinder. 
Hugh Meredith came back from North Carolina by 1739 and for 
nine years had occasional small sums from Franklin, who finally 
engaged him to buy rags for paper. Meredith fell behind in his 
accounts and made off with some books Franklin had put in his 
hands to sell. When Franklin invented the stove that has since been 
named after him, he declined to patent it and turned the model 
over to Robert Grace to manufacture at his furnace in Chester 
County. To promote the sales Franklin wrote An Account of the 
New-Invented Pennsylvanian Fire-Places (1744)^^ and published it, 
but Grace paid for the printing. His stoves were on sale for at 
least a time at Franklin’s post office. When Grace was in difficulties 
in 1749 Franklin helped him.^^ 

Then there was Franklin’s family. He sold in his shop the 
Crown soap that his brothers John and Peter made, and they sold 
books and paper for him in theirs. James Franklin had settled in 
1727 in Newport, where he issued his almanac called Poor Robin 
and became printer for the colony. In September 1732 he under- 
took the Rhode Island Gazette, though it ran for only a year. 
Benjamin sent him three hundred almanacs the following August. 
(Now for a time there were Gazettes in Rhode Island, PennsyF 
vania, and South Carolina, all of them celebrating — ^advertising— » 
Poor Richard.) During 1733 Franklin saw New England again. It 
was probably in the fall, for he gave his wife power of attorney on 
30 August, as if he were to be away. ‘'Having become easy in my 
circumstances, I made a journey thither to visit my relations, which 
I could not sooner well afford.” For the first time he saw his sister 
Jane Mecom’s children in Boston, one of whom was named Ben- 
jamin and was to become his uncle’s apprentice and partner. "In 
returning, I called at Newport to see my brother, then settled there 

113 Benjamin Franklin PHiLADELPHiA 

with his printing-house. Our former differences were forgotten, 
and our meeting was very cordial and affectionate. He was fast 
declining in his health, and requested of me that, in case of his 
death, which he apprehended not far distant [February 1735], I 
would take home his son, then but ten years of age, and bring him 
up to the printing business. This I accordingly performed, send- 
ing him a few years to school before I took him into the office. His 
mother carried on the business till he was grown up, when I 
assisted him with an assortment of new types, those of his father 
being in a manner worn out. Thus it was that I made my brother 
ample amends for the service I had deprived him of by leaving him 
so early.*"'^^ 

Ten years, and the runaway youngest son of the Franklins had 
become a second head of the family. Five years a tradesman, and 
Franklin was in easy circumstances though he had chosen one of 
the least promising trades in a provincial town. The industry and 
frugality about which he talked cannot account for his swift 
progress. That he talked about them so much makes it clear 
that they came less from his nature than from his discipline. 
Other men besides Franklin in Philadelphia were as industrious 
and as frugal as he. No other man had a mind so capacious and 
ingenious and incessant, so able at once to persuade and to 
charm. It was Franklin’s luck that it was easier for him to be 
outstanding in Philadelphia than it would have been in London. 
But from the first he was outstanding, and he throve by the 
exercise of natural gifts of which Poor Richard could not tell the 

Franklin’s quick success did not slow down his business. 

1734 he was public printer for Delaware and New Jersey as he 
later was for Maryland also. His appointment to be clerk of the 
Pennsylvania Assembly in 1736 — ^and until 1751 — enabled him to 
make sure the government printing came to him. After he became 
postmaster at Philadelphia in 1737 could use his own riders to 
distribute his own papers. The circulation of the Gazette increased, 
and the number of its advertisements. Franklin allowed Bradford 
to send his Mercury by the carriers until October 1739, when 
Alexander Spotswood, deputy postmaster-general, forbade it 
because Bradford had not yet turned in his accounts for the Phila- 

CHAPTER 4 The American Magazine’* 119 

delph-ia post office since 1754. Then there was a new clash between 
the rival printers. 

The Gentleman’ s Magazine had been founded in London in 
1731, and Franklin decided to follow its profitable lead in Phila- 
delphia. For his editor he chose a lawyer named John Webbe who 
had contributed to the Gazette a series of Essays on Government 
long ascribed to Franklin. The two were to be partners in the ven- 
ture, Franklin to pay all the expenses, Webbe to have 25 per cent 
of the profits on the sale of the first two thousand copies, 50 per 
cent on sales above that. Franklin, thinking of the magazine as a 
mere compilation which would call for only part of Webbe’s time, 
thought these terms fair. Webbe hoped he could do better, and 
took the scheme to Bradford, as George Webb years before had 
taken the scheme for the Gazette to Keimer. Bradford on 6 Novem- 
ber 1740 announced in the Mercury that he would begin to pub- 
lish The American Magazine the following March. Franklin on 
13 November announced in the Gazette that The General Maga- 
zine and Historical Chronicle for All the British Plantations in 
America would appear in January. “This magazine, in imitation 
of those in England, was long since projected; a correspondence is 
settled with intelligent men in most of the colonies. ... It would 
not, indeed, have been published quite so soon, were it not that a 
person to whom the scheme was communicated in confidence has 
thought fit to advertise it in the last Mercury, without our partici- 
pation; and probably with a view, by starting before us, to discour- 
age us from prosecuting our first design and reap the advantage of it 
wholly to himself.”'^^ Webbe and Bradford, knowing Franklin's 
plans, had announced their magazine as cheaper than the one he 
had in mind. He now planned to sell his magazine not by the year's 
subscription but by the single copy, “sixpence sterling or nine- 
pence Pennsylvania money." 

Webbe angrily replied in three numbers of the Mercury. Frank- 
lin paid no attention until the third accused him of excluding 
Bradford's newspaper from the mails. Then the editor-postmaster 
published Spotswood’s order, and pointed out that Webbe knew 
about it. Webbe retorted that Bradford, after being excluded, had 
bribed the riders to carry the Mercury, and that Franklin must 
have known about that. So, acrimoniously, the two printers raced 

120 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

to see who would be first with the first magazine in America, The 
American Magazine seems to have been three days ahead of the 
General Magazine, of which the first issue seems to have come out 
i6 February 1741, dated January. Bradford’s ran for three monthly 
issues, Franklin’s for six. Both were unsuccessful; Franklin did not 
mention his magazine in his Autobiography, and most of his biog- 
raphers have done no more than mention it. 

In part this is because Franklin wrote little himself for what 
was a repository of matters from many sources. As in the Gazette, 
he did not so much take sides as let both sides have their say. The 
three chief topics dealt with were the war which had broken out 
between England and Spain, the problem of paper currency, and 
the Great Awakening as recently proclaimed by George Whitefield. 
Along with state papers Franklin reprinted news, miscellaneous 
extracts from books and pamphlets, essays, dialogues, characters, 
poems. The General Magazine is a curious anthology of American 
literary primitives for 1741. And the department called Historical 
Chronicle is still a useful survey of events month by month for 
half a year. 

Franklin, unsuccessful for once at home, turned to New York. 
One of his printers was James Parker, a former apprentice to 
William Bradford, who in 1733 had run away to Philadelphia. On 
20 February 1742 Franklin and Parker formed a silent partnership. 
Franklin was to equip his former journeyman with a press and 
types, transport them to New York, pay a third of the expenses of 
the business there, and receive a third of the profits. William 
Bradford retired. Parker (and the silent Franklin) took over the 
New York Gazette and in 1743 became public printer for that 
province. In 1746 Parker was made librarian of the Corporation of 
the City of New York. A better printer than Franklin, he had a 
career something like his master’s and partner’s: printer, librarian, 
postmaster, captain of a troop of horse, lay reader, controller of the 
North American post office, and eventually judge. Printer for New 
York and New Jersey, he was also printer for Yale College, and at 
his shop (and Franklin’s) in New Haven he established the Con- 
necticut Gazette 12 April 1755. By that time Franklin had retired 
ftom active business, but his capital still had partners. 

CHAPTER 4 J^ephews as Partners 121 

Two of them were his nephews. James Franklin’s son James 
after his father’s death had come to Philadelphia, gone to school, 
and been apprenticed to his uncle 5 November 1740, He was to 
serve for seven years for “sufficient meat, drink, clothes, lodging, 
and washing fitting for an apprentice,” and at the end of his term 
was to have “one good new suit of clothes, besides his common 
apparel.”'^'^ When that time came he went back to Newport, with 
his new types, to the business which his mother with his uncle’s 
help had kept going since his father died. Benjamin Mecom, Jane 
Franklin’s son, born 1732, went to serve his apprenticeship with 
Parker in New York. In 1748 Franklin sent Thomas Smith, a 
journeyman who had worked for him both in New York and 
Philadelphia, to St. John in Antigua, to open its first printing- 
house and to start the Antigua Gazette about September of that 
year. But Smith died in the summer of 1752, and Franklin in 
August sent Benjamin Mecom to take his place. “That island,” 
Franklin wrote reassuringly on 14 September to his sister and her 
husband in Boston, “is reckoned one of the healthiest in the West 
Indies. My late partner there enjoyed perfect health for four years, 
till he grew careless and got to sitting up late in taverns, which I 
have cautioned Benny to avoid. . . . He has the place on the same 
terms with his predecessor, who, I understand, cleared from five to 
six hundred pistoles during the four years he lived there. I have 
recommended him to some gentlemen of note for their patronage 
and advice.’”^® 

Benjamin Mecom, not yet twenty when he went to be almost his 
own master in Antigua, was too much a Franklin not to be restless. 
As printer he had the Leeward Islands to himself. He revived the 
Antigua Gazette, and published it till June 1756. But he disliked 
the long leash on which he felt he ran. Franklin explained in a 
patient letter to his sister on 28 June 1756. He had sent Benny, he 
said, as his partner, for one-third of the profits. “After this, finding 
him diligent and careful, for his encouragement I relinquished 
that agreement and let him know that, as you were removed into 
a dearer house, if he paid you yearly a certain sum, I forget what 
it was, towards discharging your rent, and another small sum to 
me, in sugar and rum for my family use, he need keep no farthet 

122 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

accounts of the profits but should enjoy all the rest himself.” The 
total was not above twenty pounds a year, and Franklin intended 
to give Benjamin the printing-house as soon as he should prove 
that he was stable. 

“This proposal of paying you and me a certain annual sum did 
not please him; and he wrote to desire I would explicitly tell him 
how long that annual payment was to continue . . . and finally 
insisted that I would name a certain sum that I would take for the 
printing-house, and allow him to pay it off in parts as he could, 
and then the yearly payments to cease; for, though he had a high 
esteem for me, yet he loved freedom, and his spirit would not bear 
dependence on any man, though he were the best man living.”’^® 
This letter came to Philadelphia when Franklin was away, and 
could not be answered promptly. Benjamin Mecom resolved to 
leave Antigua. Buying the press outright, he moved it early in 1757 
to Boston, where he was something of a beau among the printers, 
with ruffles, wig, and gloves. In March 1758 he issued the first 
separate edition of Father Abraham’s Speech from Poor Richard 
Improved. But he did not prosper. He removed his press to New 
York in 1763, with no better fortune. Leaving his own press in 
storage, he rented Parker’s (really Franklin’s) in New Haven, 
where he was also Parker’s deputy in the post office. But there, and 
later in Philadelphia and in Burlington, Mecom was too little a 
Franklin to make his way, and finally went mad about 1776. 

At one time or another Franklin had partnerships with William 
Smith in Dominica (where he founded the Freeport Gazette), with 
a printer named Daniel in Kingston, Jamaica, and perhaps with 
other printers in North Carolina and Georgia. Nearer home he 
had for partners his wife’s relative William Dunlap, Samuel Hol- 
land, and John Henry Miller at Lancaster, and in Philadelphia 
Gotthard Armbruester (1747-50), Johannes Boehm (1749-51), and 
Anthony Armbruester (1754-58) for his German publications. One 
of these was the brief Hoch T eutsche und Englische Zeitung which 
in 1752 gave its readers news from the Pennsylvania Gazette in 
two languages. But most of his partnerships after 1748, however 
numerous, were slight affairs, almost as much to encourage print- 
ing and printers as to bring a return on his money. 

CHAPTER 4 James Parker and David Hall 1 23 

His principal partners were James Parker in New York (and 
New Jersey and Connecticut) and David Hall in Philadelphia. 
Hall had learned his trade in Edinburgh and then had gone to 
Watts’s in London, where he met William Strahan, later Franklin’s 
correspondent. Strahan recommended Hall to Franklin, and 
Franklin invited him to come to America in 1743, agreeing either 
to make him partner or to employ him for a year and pay his 
passage back to England if he wanted to go. Hall came, and Frank- 
lin at once found him “obliging, discreet, industrious, and honest.” 
Perhaps he had something to do with making Logan’s Cato Major 
the next year kranklin’s attempt at a formal masterpiece. They 
shipped five hundred copies of the book to Strahan in London. 
(Strahan turned thein over to a bookseller who as late as 1781 had 
never accounted for them.) Hall became foreman, and Poor 
Richard for 1748 became Poor Richard Improved. On 29 January 
1748 Franklin wrote to Cadwallader Golden that he had a partner, 
and on 29 September: “I too am taking the proper measures for 
obtaining leisure to enjoy life and my friends, more than hereto- 
fore, having put my printing-house under the care of my partner, 
David Hall, absolutely left off bookselling, and removed to a more 
quiet part of town.”'^'^ For eighteen years the partnership paid 
Franklin an average of £467 a year, and the firm was known as 
Franklin and Hall till 1766.'^® 

So long as he lived by printing Franklin was satisfied to have his 
work neat and readable, and barely went beyond this. During his 
later years in England and France he became interested in fine 
printing and had some of the best European printers among his 
friends. Printing was his trade. He had chosen it as a boy under the 
eye of his father, who thought a man’s trade should be his pride. 
It was that for the son, who began his will: “I, Benjamin Franklin, 
Printer, late Minister Plenipotentiary from the United States of 
America to the Court of France, now President of Pennsyl- 
vania. . , Printer first, then ambassador. And at the other end 
of his career, in 1728 when he set up in business, he had written for 
himself the most famous of American epitaphs,®^ humorously in 
the language of his trade: 


Benjamin Franklin 


The Body of 
B Franklin Printer, 

(Like the Cover of an old Book 
Its Contents torn out 
And stript of its Lettering fe Gilding) 
Lies here. Food for Worms. 

But the Work shall not be lost; 

For it will, (as he believ'd) appear once more. 
In a new and more elegant Edition 
Revised and corrected. 

By the Author. 


F or the twenty years 1728-48 Franklin, like any tradesman of 
his time, worked and lived in the same house, near the busy 
courthouse and the noisy market. While the Godfreys were still his 
tenants, Franklin with Meredith shared their living quarters above 
the shop, which Godfrey shared as glazier. After the Godfreys and 
Meredith had left and Franklin had married, the new household 
and the growing business filled the premises. There were the young 
couple and Deborah’s mother, with her salves and ointments, and 
soon the mysterious son William. The apprentice Joseph Rose 
must have lived with them, and probably for a time the journey* 
man Thomas Whitemarsh. Two years after the marriage Francis 
Folger was born, and before or after his death four years later, 
Franklin’s nephew James came from Newport, first to be sent to 
school with William and then to succeed young Rose as apprentice. 
A brother and a sister of Deborah seem also to have lived with the 
Franklins for uncertain periods. Their daughter Sarah was born 
31 August (11 September, New Style) 1743 and baptized at Christ 
Church 5 October. It is likely that various journeymen lodged and 
boarded in the house. 

Though the household was mixed it was compact. Franklin at 
first seldom entertained his friends at home, but saw them at tav- 
erns or, chiefly, at the meetings of the Junto. He and his wife had 
little to do with other tradesmen, except on business. The more 
formal gentry of Philadelphia long looked, condescendingly if 
approvingly, on Franklin as a tradesman, and never accepted his 
wife or included her in invitations to their houses. Her life was 
her husband, her children, and her house and shop. Nor was 
Franklin during these years away from home as much as may be 
thought. He had no daily journeys to and from his work. He 

I £6 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

simply got up and came downstairs, to his press, his shop, his 
accounts, and, after 1737, his post office. His house was his plain 
castle, his study, his laboratory, and a place to stand while he 
moved his world. 

Paragraphs and advertisements in the Gazette tell much of what 
is known about his private life. In December 1734, when his sons 
were four and two years old, he advertised for “a servant . . . that 
is a scholar and can teach children reading, writing, and arith- 
metic.’’ When William was twelve he (that is, his father for him) 
advertised on 17 June 1742: “Strayed, about two months ago, from 
the Northern Liberties of this city, a small bay mare branded IW 
on the near shoulder and buttock. She, being but little and bare- 
footed, cannot be supposed to have gone far; therefore if any of 
the town boys find her and bring her to the subscriber, they shall, 
for their trouble, have the liberty to ride her when they please.’* 
Not many young tradesmen’s sons in Philadelphia had ponies to 
ride or, like Francis, their portraits painted in early childhood. 
Francis died of smallpox on 2 1 November 1736. Franklin, a humor- 
ous and indulgent father but a conscientious citizen, in the Gazette 
for 6-13 December corrected the false report that the child had 
died from being inoculated: “inasmuch as some people are by that 
report (joined with others of the like kind, and perhaps equally 
groundless) deterred from having that operation performed on 
their children. I do hereby sincerely declare that he was not inocu- 
lated but received the distemper in the common way of infection; 
and I suppose the report could only arise from its being my known 
opinion that inoculation was a safe and beneficial practice; and 
from my having said among my acquaintance that I intended to 
have the child inoculated as soon as he should have recovered 
sufficient strength from a flux with which he had been long 
afflicted.” In Poor Richard for the next year Franklin among the 
adages and jokes put his saddest verses: 

The Thracian infant, entering into life, 

Both parents mourn for, both receive with grief; 

The Thracian infant snatched by Death away, 

Both parents to the grave with joy convey. 

This, Greece and Rome, you with derision view. 

This is mere Thracian ignorance to you; 

CHAPTER 5 Autobiographical Advertisements 12 T 

But if you weigh the custom you despise, 

This Thracian ignorance may teach the wise. 

(Long afterwards Franklin wrote to his sister Jane that his grand- 
son “brings often afresh to my mind the idea of my son Franky, 
though now dead thirty-six years, whom I have seldom since seen 
equalled in everything, and whom to this day I cannot think of 
without a sigh.’’^) 

In the Gazette Franklin regularly and amusingly reminded his 
subscribers that the paper ought to be paid for. When he had lent 
books and they had not been returned, he advertised them as miss- 
ing, perhaps only pretending that he had forgotten who had them. 
Deborah Franklin s prayer book was taken out of her pew in 
Christ Church, and the newspaper for June 1737 said: “The 
person who took it is desired to open it and read the Eighth Com- 
mandment, and afterwards return it into the same pew again; 
upon which no further notice will be taken.” In February 1739, 
according to an announcement on the ssd, William Lloyd, who 
had been a schoolmaster and claimed to know Latin and Greek, 
stole a half-worn sagathy [silk and wool or silk and cotton] coat 
from Franklin’s house, “four fine homespun shirts, a fine Holland 
shirt ruflled at the hands and bosom, a pair of black broadcloth 
breeches, new seated and lined with leather; two pair of good 
worsted stockings, one of a dark colour and the other a lightish 
blue, a coarse cambric handkerchief marked with an F in red silk, 
a new pair of calfskin shoes.” Franklin had already begun to be, 
as the French police noted years later, particular about his linen, 
but his sagathy coat was not as new as the frugal new seat and 
leather lining of his broadcloth breeches. His wife’s clothes, stolen 
in 1750, were gayer: “a woman’s long scarlet coat, with double 
cape; a woman’s gown of printed cotton, of the sort called brocade, 
very remarkable, the ground dark with large red roses and other 
large red and yellow flowers and smaller blue and white flowers, 
with many green leaves,” according to the Gazette for 1 November. 

Traces of Franklin as printer and scientist now and then ap- 
peared in his advertisements. In November 1738 “a small manu- 
script treatise upon the dry gripes” had been dropped somewhere 
in the streets, and the owner asked that it be brought, if found, to 
the printer for a handsome reward. This was presumably Thomas 

1 £8 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

Cadwalader’s An Essay on the WestAndiaDry Gripes which Frank- 
lin published in 1745, and which may have led to his own impor- 
tant observations on lead poisoning — caused in this case by the 
lead pipes through which Jamaica rum was distilled. The following 
June Franklin’s apprentice Joseph Rose announced that, “with 
the leave of my master,” he had undertaken to collect and print 
his father’s poems, and in return for each manuscript sent him he 
would give a printed book when the work was finished. In August 
somebody, probably Franklin, had lost ‘'a magnifying glass set in a 
cup of wood about the bigness of a tailor’s thimble.” And in the 
first issue for that year the public was informed: “Benjamin Frank- 
lin, printer, is removed from the house he lately dwelt in, four 
doors nearer the river, on the same side of the street.”^ The Gazette 
had made the official announcement, on 27 October 1737 that “the 
post office of Philadelphia is now kept at B. Franklin’s, in Market 

The Gazette gives a running account of what Franklin had to 
sell in the shop which he opened about the time of his marriage. 
Though his stock was never perhaps as large in a single w’^eek as 
may appear, he sold as time went on many things besides stationery 
and books in a lively confusion of sights and smells, indoors and 
out: soap, ballads, slates and pencils, ink and ink powders, pounce 
and pounce boxes, sealing wax, wafers, lead pencils, fountain pens 
(what they then were is not known), quills for pens, ink horns, 
sand glasses, mezzotints, maps, sack (Spanish wine), lampblack, 
chocolate, linseed oil, coffee, powdered mustard, compasses and 
scales, patent medicines, dividers and protractors, a second-hand 
chaise, another with four wheels, Rhode Island cheese and cod fish, 
quadrants, fore-staffs, nocturnals, mariners’ compasses, lumber, 
edgings, scarlet cloth, black broadcloth, white stockings, duck, iron 
stoves, a horse for riding or driving, tea, saffron, lottery tickets, 
mackerel by the barrel, a copper still, spermaceti, palm oil, spec- 
tacles, a fishing net. Franklin also bought linen rags to send to 
paper-mills: 55,476 pounds between 1735 and 1741.^ 

At his shop he was a kind of general trader, offering for sale the 
unexpired time of indentured servants. *'A servant man’s time for 
near three years, to be disposed of. He is a joiner by trade and a 
very good workman.” “A likely servant maid’s time for four years 


Indentured Servants and Slaves 


to be disposed o£. She works well with her needle/' '*A very good 
tailor, having one year and ten months to run; fit for either town 
or country business. And a servant lad for six years, fit for country 
business." '‘To be sold for her passage. A likely young woman^ 
well clothed, can sew and do household work. Term of time as you 
can agree with her. N. B. Her passage is £8. Also a breeding Negro 
woman about twenty years of age. Can do any household work."^ 
For Franklin dealt in slaves too, sold for other owners or bought 
by him as an investment. The servants in his household were 
usually white, though Deborah in her old age had a little slave boy 
to whom she was much attached. “A likely Negro wench about 
fifteen years old, has had the smallpox, been in the country above 
a year and talks English. Inquire of the printer hereof." “A likely 
young Negro fellow about nineteen or twenty years of age, to be 
disposed of. He is very fit for labour, being used to plantation 
work, and has had the smallpox." “Two likely young Negroes, one 
a lad about nineteen, the other a girl of fifteen."^ 

His shop was as full of goods as his head was of ideas. Here was 
a philosopher who could not really be interrupted. Interruptions 
came, and he dealt with them one by one, punctually and eiBEort- 
lessly, and then went back to the real business of his mind: moral 
reflections, foreign languages, varied sciences, the comfort and 
safety of Philadelphia and of mankind in general. His mind was a 
federation of purposes, working harmoniously together. Other 
philosophers might be dark and profound, but Franklin moved 
serenely through the visible world, trying to understand it all. 
Other men of action might lay single plans and endlessly persist in 
them, but Franklin met occasions as they rose and acted on them 
with a far-sighted opportunism. His mind grew as his world grew. 


Franklin's projects for the good of the public came naturally out 
of his own experience and character. Wanting more books than he 
had or could afford, he planned and furthered a library which 
would supply books for him and everybody. Disliking all waste 
that might be avoided, he next set about a scheme for the control 

ISO Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

of fire, the fiercest enemy of property. Boston managed its fires 
better than Philadelphia. Franklin, back from his visit to his native 
town, talked with the members of the Junto. When they agreed 
with him that something should be done, he wrote a letter to 
himself and published it 4 February 1735 in the Gazette, as from 
an old citizen, on Protection of T owns from Fire.^ People should 
be careful, the old citizen said, about carrying coals from room to 
room or up and downstairs, “unless in a warming-pan shut,’’ and 
about narrow hearths and wooden mouldings on the sides of fire- 
places. Chimney sweeps should be licensed by the mayor, and 
responsible for their work. So much for prevention. As to putting 
fires out, let them consider “the example of a city in a neighbour- 
ing province. There is, as I am well informed, a club or society of 
active men belonging to each fire engine, whose business is to 
attend all fires with it whenever they happen.” Such men became 
skilled from practice. They had quarterly meetings at which they 
talked over what they had learned. “Since the establishment of this 
regulation it seems there has been no extraordinary fire in that 
place; and I wish there never may be any here.” The old citizen 
hoped that Philadelphia would remember that “an ounce of pre- 
vention is worth a pound of cure.” 

The town read, and agreed with the Junto and Franklin. A 
volunteer company of thirty men was formed. They equipped 
themselves with “leather buckets, with strong bags and baskets (for 
packing and transporting of goods), which were to be brought to 
every fire.” They met once a month and spent “a social evening 
together, in discoursing and communicating such ideas as occurred 
to us upon the subject of fires. . . . Many more desiring to be 
admitted than we thought convenient for one company, they were 
advised to form another, which was accordingly done; and this 
went on, one new company being formed after another, till they 
became so numerous as to include most of the inhabitants who 
were men of property.”'^ The Union Fire Company, formed by 
Franklin 7 December 1736, was the first of the companies which 
made Philadelphia, so far as fires were concerned, one of the safest 
cities in the world. 

After firemen, policemen. “The city watch was one of the first 
things that I conceived to want regulation. It was managed by the 

CHAPTER 5 The City fFatch 131 

constables of the respective wards in turn; the constable warned a 
number of housekeepers [householders] to attend him for the 
night. Those who chose never to attend paid him six shillings a 
year to be excused, which was supposed to be for hiring substitutes, 
but was in reality much more than was necessary for that purpose, 
and made the constableship a place of profit; and the constable, 
for a little drink, often got such ragamuffins about him as a watch 
that respectable housekeepers did not choose to mix with. Walking 
the rounds, too, was often neglected and most of the nights spent 
in tippling. I thereupon wrote a paper to be read in Junto, repre- 
senting these irregularities, but insisting more particularly on the 
inequality of the six-shilling tax of the constables, respecting the 
circumstances of those who paid it, since a poor widow house- 
keeper, all whose property to be guarded by the watch did not 
perhaps exceed the value of fifty pounds, paid as much as the 
wealthiest merchant, who had thousands of pounds’ worth in his 
stores.”^ Proposing that the tax be equitable, Franklin urged also 
that the city choose proper watchmen and pay them for regular 
services. His programme, approved by the central Junto, was taken 
to the lesser clubs — the Vine, the Union, the Band — and made to 
seem to have originated there. These plans were carried out less 
promptly than those for fire companies, and dragged on for years. 
Franklin had here not only to bring in something new but also to 
get rid of something already in existence. 

Thoroughly secular, though no longer anti-clerical, Franklin 
worked little through the churches. Their traditions made them 
too rigid, and their sects too discordant, for his purposes. He seldom 
went to church, because Sunday was still his day for study. But he 
had been brought up a Presbyterian, and he was once persuaded 
by the minister of that denomination to attend its services for five 
Sundays. Franklin found the sermons “very dry, uninteresting, and 
unedifying, since not a single moral principle was inculcated or 
enforced, their aim seeming to be rather to make us Presbyterians 
than good citizens.”^ They were, he thought, not worth the reading 
they cost him. A livelier preacher, named Hemphill, came to Phila- 
delphia from Ireland and preached sermons which Franklin liked 
for their emphasis on good works. The orthodox Presbyterians 
disapproved. “I became his zealous partisan, and contributed all 

Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

I could to raise a party in his favour. . . . There was much scrib- 
bling pro and con upon the occasion; and, finding that though an 
elegant preacher he was but a poor writer, I lent him my pen and 
wrote for him two or three pamphlets The orthodox party 
triumphed when it was learned that Hemphill had purloined his 
sermons from English books, though Franklin thought good ser- 
mons preferable to bad, no matter who had written them. Hemp- 
hill “left us in search elsewhere of better fortune, and I quitted 
the congregation, never joining it after, though I continued many 
years my subscription for the support of its ministers. The 
Franklin family had a pew in the Episcopalian Christ Church, 
where the two younger children -were baptized and they and both 
their parents were buried. Franklin gave help in the church's busi- 
ness affairs, subscribed to the building fund, and served (1752-53) 
as one of the managers of a lottery to raise money for a steeple and 
a chime of bells. 

Freemasonry, secret, sociable, and unified, tvas more congenial 
than churches to Franklin. The earliest known lodge in America 
was St. John's in Philadelphia, and its earliest records are dated 
1730. Franklin seems not to have been among the first members, 
but the Gazette was alert. On 8 December of that year it had an 
article pretending to reveal the Masonic mysteries. Franklin be- 
came a Mason in February. On 13 May he admitted that he had 
been in error in December. In June 1732 he drafted the lodge's 
by-laws. On the 24th of that month he became warden, and two 
years later on the same day (St. John the Baptist's day) grand 
master of St. John's lodge, a month after he had printed the Con- 
stitutions, the first Masonic book in America. From 1735 to 1738 
he was the lodge's secretary. On 10 June 1749 he was elected grand 
master of the province, and the next year, yielding that post to 
William Allen the chief justice, became deputy grand master. He 
seems to have been always active in Masonic affairs, met with the 
lodge in Boston when he was there, and had a notable part in the 
building of the first Masonic temple in America, dedicated on 
24 June 1755 while Braddock was on his way to his defeat. 

In the Gazette is Franklin's story of an outrageous episode which, 
though only a burlesque of the Masonic ritual and utterly dis- 
avowed by St John’s, lodge, was blamed on the Masons, Franklin 


Franklin and a Scandal 


among them. Evan Jones, a chemist, had a gullible apprentice^ 
Daniel Rees, who wanted to be a Mason. Jones and some of his 
friends in June 1737 pretended to initiate the boy. In the cere- 
mony a bowl of burning rum was thrown at him and he was fatally 
burned. Jones was tried for murder and acquitted; for man- 
slaughter and found guilty,, and sentenced to be burned in the 
hand. Bradford in the Mercury charged Franklin with having been 
present and having relished the tragic buffoonery, including the 
blasphemous oath the boy had sworn.^^ Franklin answered the 
charges in his newspaper for 7-15 February 1738: 

'‘Some time in June last Mr. Danby, Mr. Alrihs, and myself 
were appointed by the Court of Common Pleas as auditors to settle 
an affair between Dr. Jones and Armstrong Smith, then depend- 
ing in said Court. We met accordingly at a tavern in Market Street 
on the Saturday morning before the tragedy was acted in the 

doctor’s cellar. Dr. Jones appeared, and R n^^ as his attorney, 

but Smith could not readily be found. While we waited for Smith 

in order to hear both parties together, the doctor and R ^n 

began to entertain us with an account of some diversion they had 
lately had with the doctor’s apprentice, w^ho being desirous of 
being made a Freemason, they had persuaded him they could make 
him one, and accordingly had taught him several ridiculous signs, 
words, and ceremonies, of which he was very fond. ’Tis true I 
laughed (and perhaps heartily, as my manner is) at the beginning 
of their relation; but when they came to those circumstances of 
their giving him a violent purge, leading him to kiss J.’s posteriors, 

and administering to him the diabolical oath which R n read 

to us, I grew indeed serious, as I suppose the most merry man (not 
inclined to mischief) would on such an occasion. Nor did any one 

of the company except the doctor and R ^n tliemselves seem in 

the least pleased with the affair, but the contrary. Mr. Danby in 
particular said that if they had done such things in England they 
would be prosecuted. Mr. Alrihs, that he did not believe they could 
stand by it. And myself, that when the young man came to know 
how he had been imposed on, he would never forgive them. 

"But the doctor and R xi went on to tell us that they de- 

signed to have yet some further diversion, on pretence of raising 
him to a higher degree in Masonry. R n said it was intended 

134 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

to introduce him blindfolded and stripped into a room where the 
company, being each provided with a rod or switch, should chastise 
him smartly: which the doctor opposed, and said he had a better 
invention. They would have a game of snapdragon in a dark 
cellar, where some figures should be dressed up, that by the pale 
light of burning brandy would appear horrible and frighten him 

d bly. Soon after the discourse, the young man himself coming 

in to speak with his master, the doctor pointed at me, and said to 
him: ‘Daniel, that gentleman is a Freemason. Make a sign to him.’ 
Which whether he did or not, I cannot tell; for I was so far from 
encouraging him in the delusion, or taking him by the hand, or 
calling him brother and welcoming him into the fraternity, as is 
said, that I turned my head to avoid seeing him make his pretended 
sign, and looked out of the window into the garden. 

“And all those circumstances, with that of my desiring to have 
notice that I might be present at the snapdragon, are absolutely 
false and groundless. I was acquainted with him, and had a respect 
for the young lad’s father, and thought it a pity his son should be 
so imposed upon; and therefore followed the lad downstairs to the 
door when he went out, with a design to call him back and give 
a hint of the imposition; but he was gone out of sight and I never 
saw him afterwards; for the Monday night following, the affair in 
the cellar was transacted which proved his death. As to the paper 

or oath, I did desire R ^n when he had read it to let me see it; 

and, finding it a piece of a very extraordinary nature, I told him I 
was desirous to show it to some of my acquaintance, and so put it 
in my pocket. I communicated it to one who mentioned it to 
others, and so many people flocked to my house for a sight of it 
that it grew troublesome; and therefore when the mayor sent for 
it, I was glad of the opportunity to be discharged from it. Nor do 
I yet conceive that it was my duty to conceal or destroy it. And 
being subpoenaed on the trial as a witness for the king, I appeared 
and gave my evidence fully, freely, and impartially, as I think it 
becomes an honest man to do.”^® To the truth of this statement of 
the case John Danby and Harmanus Alrihs made afiidavit. 

In Boston, where there was now a lodge of Masons, the News 
Letter published Bradford’s account of the scandalous accident, 
and Franklin’s parents were troubled. They wrote to ask not only 

CHAPTER 5 yu§liJication by Works 1S5 

about Freemasonry but about his religious opinions. Franklin on 
13 April answered both of them in a letter to his father, “When 
the natural weakness and imperfection of human understanding is 
considered, the unavoidable influence of education, custom, books, 
and company upon our ways of thinking, I imagine a man must 
have a good deal of vanity who believes, and a good deal of bold- 
ness who affirms, that all the doctrines he holds are true, and all 
he rejects are false. And perhaps the same may be justly said of 
every sect, church, and society of men, when they assume to them- 
selves that infallibility which they deny to the Pope and councils. 
I think opinions should be judged of by their influences and 
effects; and, if a man holds none that tend to make him less virtuous 
or more vicious, it may be concluded he holds none that are 
dangerous; which I hope is the case with me. 

“I am sorry you should have any uneasiness on my account; and 
if it were a thing possible for one to alter his opinions in order to 
please another, I know none whom I ought more willingly to 
oblige in that respect than yourselves. But, since it is no more 
in a man’s power to think than to look like another, methinks all 
that should be expected from me is to keep my mind open to 
conviction, to hear patiently and examine attentively, whatever is 
offered me for that end; and, if after all I continue in the same 
errors, I believe your usual charity will induce you to rather pity 
and excuse than blame me. In the meantime your care and concern 
for me is what I am very thankful for. 

“My mother grieves that one of her sons is an Arian, another an 
Arminian. What an Arminian or an Arian is, I cannot say that 
I very well know. The truth is, I make such distinctions very little 
my study. I think vital religion has always suffered when orthodoxy 
is more regarded than virtue; and the Scriptures assure me that at 
the last day we shall not be examined what we thought but what 
we did; and our recommendation will not be that we said ‘Lord! 
Lord!’ but that we did good to our fellow-creatures. See Matt, xxv, 

“As to the Freemasons, I know no way of giving my mother a 
better account of them than she seems to have at present, since it 
is not allowed that women should be admitted into that secret 
society. She has, I must confess, on that account some reason to 
be displeased with it; but for anything else, I must entreat her to 

igg Bevjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

suspend her judgment till she is better informed, unless she will 
believe me when I assure her that they are in general a very 
harmless sort of people, and have no principles or practices that 
are inconsistent with religion and good manners.”^® 

While Franklin was writing these tactful, affectionate words, 
which comforted his father and mother, George Whitefield was on 
his way from England to Georgia. The Great Awakening had 
begun with Jonathan Edwards at Northampton, Massachusetts, 
four years before, and John Wesley in Georgia had planted the 
first American seeds of Methodism. (Timothy — Franklin’s partner 
in Charleston — ^published Wesley’s first hymns.) But Edwards 
stayed in Massachusetts, and Wesley went back to England. The 
chief preacher of the Awakening was Whitefield, who from Georgia 
to Massachusetts called upon sinners to repent and upon drowsy 
Christians to rise and glow. When he came to Philadelphia late 
in 1739, Franklin took a philosopher’s and a philanthropist’s 
interest in him. “The multitudes of all sects and denominations 
that attended his sermons were enormous, and it was matter of 
speculation to me, who was one of the number, to observe the 
extraordinary influence of his oratory on his hearers, and hoiv 
much they admired and respected him notwithstanding his com- 
mon abuse of them by assuring them that they were naturally half 
beasts and half devils. It was wonderful to see the change soon 
made in the manners of our inhabitants. From being thoughtless 
or indifferent about religion, it seemed as if all the world were 
growing religious, so that one could not walk through the town in 
an evening without hearing psalms sung in different families of 
every street.’’^^ 

Franklin, himself no public speaker, carefully noted White- 
field’s oratory. “He had a loud and clear voice, and articulated his 
words and sentences so perfectly that he might be heard and under- 
stood at a great distance, especially as his auditories, however 
numerous, observed the most exact silence. He preached one 
evening from the top of the courthouse steps, which are in the 
middle of Market Street and on the west side of Second Street, 
which crosses it at right angles. Being among the hindmost in 
Market Street, I had the curiosity to learn how far he could be 
heard, by retiring backwards down the street towards the river: 

CHAPTER 5 George IVhiteJield iS% 

and I found his voice distinct till I came near Front Street, when 
some noise in that street obscured it. Imagining then a semicircle, 
of which my distance should be the radius, and that it were filled 
with auditors to each of whom I allowed two square feet, I com* 
puted that he might be heard by more than thirty thousand. This 
reconciled me to the newspaper accounts of his having preached to 
twenty-five thousand people in the fields, and to the ancient stories 
of generals haranguing whole armies, of which I had sometimes 

It was an advantage to Whitefield, Franklin realized, that as an 
itinerant he could preach old sermons to new audiences. ‘'His 
delivery . . . was so improved by frequent repetitions that every 
accent, every emphasis, every modulation of voice was so perfectly 
well turned and well placed that, without being interested in the 
subject, one could not help being pleased with the discourse; a 
pleasure of much the same kind with that received from an excel- 
lent piece of music.”'^^ Yet Franklin could be moved in spite of his 
cool reason. Talking to Whitefield, he had refused to contribute to 
the scheme for building an orphanage in Georgia out of money 
raised in Philadelphia. Georgia lacked materials and workmen, 
and it would be more expensive to send them there than to build 
the orphanage in Philadelphia and bring the children to it. “I 
happened soon after to attend one of his sermons, in the course of 
ivhich I perceived he intended, to finish with a collection, and 1 
silently resolved he should get nothing from me. I had in my 
pocket a handful of copper money, three or four silver dollars, and 
five pistoles in gold. As he proceeded I began to soften, and con- 
cluded to give the coppers. Another stroke of his oratory made me 
ashamed of that, and determined me to give the silver. And he 
finished so admirably that I emptied my pocket wholly into the 
collector's dish, gold and 

The preacher and the philosopher were on the jfriendliest terms. 
Franklin printed Whitefield's sermons, gave him worldly counsel, 
and invited him to lodge in the crowded quarters above the press 
and shop in Market Street. When the regular clergy refused their 
pulpits to the evangelist, Franklin had a hand in buying ground 
and building a house “expressly for the use df any preacher of any 
religious persuasion who might desire to say something to the 

238 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

people at Philadelphia; the design m building not being to accom- 
modate any particular sect, but the inhabitants in general; so that 
even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to 
preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his 
service. Perhaps not many Philadelphians had so large a con- 
ception of the building’s possible use. Its original trustees came 
one from each sect, though after the Moravian had died, the others 
chose Franklin as “merely an honest man and of no sect at all. ”22 
Whitefield prayed for Franklin’s conversion, “but never had the 
satisfaction of believing that his prayers were heard.’’^® 

Yet Whitefield, stirring the colonies and making them aware of 
one another as they heard about his long, tumultuous progress 
through town after town, sharpened in Franklin his interest in 
“all the British plantations in America” for which he planned the 
General Magazine announced the month Whitefield left Philadel- 
phia for Georgia again. Franklin was becoming intercolonial. As 
clerk of the Assembly since 1736 he had been kept attentive to 
Pennsylvania affairs. As postmaster since 1737 he had been made 
to think often of more than Pennsylvania. The mails were still 
irregular, but the line stretched now from Boston to Charleston 
and passed both ways through Philadelphia. Ships from Europe, 
from the West Indies, and from other continental ports brought 
bags of mail to his post office, which was a comer of his shop. On 
the day each week when the mail left, north and south, he might 
have to give his whole time to it. Franklin had a chance to read 
other newspapers besides his own. In particular he watched to see 
what men of learning there were in America and what they did. 
He had an impulse to bring them somehow together as he had 
brought the members of the Junto when he was a journeyman. He 
printed a circular letter dated 14 May 1743 and sent it to various 
correspondents, proposing that they unite to form the American 
Philosophical Society.®^ 

What he had in mind was unmistakably an intercolonial Junto. 
Philadelphia was to be the centre of the society, and there were 
always to be at Philadelphia seven members — a physician, a 
botanist, a mathematician, a chemist, a mechanician, a geographer, 
and a general natural philosopher — ^besides the president, treas- 

CHAPTER 5 The American Philosophical Society ISb 

urer, and secretary. (Of the first ten members in Philadelphia, five 
are known to have belonged to the Junto.) The Philadelphia 
members were to meet once a month, or oftener, transact their 
piiilosophical business, consider such reports or queries as might 
have been sent in by correspondents, and arrange to keep all the 
members informed of what all of them were doing. Quarterly 
abstracts of valuable communications were to be sent, postage- 
free, to each member, who was to pay an annual piece of eight 
(worth about one dollar). 

“The first drudgery of settling new colonies,*' Franklin said, 
“which confines the attention of people to mere necessaries, is now 
pretty well over; and there are many in every province in circum- 
stances that set them at ease and afford leisure to cultivate the 
finer arts and improve the common stock of knowledge." The 
extent of the country kept them apart and ignorant of each other’s 
speculations. What was needed was systematic correspondence 
among them, through the society, on such subjects as these: '‘all 
new-discovered plants, herbs, trees, roots, their virtues, uses, etc.; 
methods of propagating them, and making such as are useful, but 
particular to some plantations, more general; improvements of 
vegetable juices, as ciders, wines, etc.; new methods of curing or 
preventing diseases; all new-discovered fossils in different coun- 
tries, as mines, minerals, and quarries; new and useful improve- 
ments in any branch of mathematics; new discoveries in chemistry, 
such as improvements in distillation, brewing, and assaying of 
ores; new mechanical inventions for saving labour, as mills and 
carriages, and for raising and conveying of water, draining of 
meadows, etc.; all new arts, trades, and manufactures that may be 
proposed or thought of; surveys, maps, and charts of particular 
parts of the sea coasts or inland countries; course and junctions of 
rivers and great roads, situation of lakes and mountains, nature of 
the soil and productions; new methods of improving the breed of 
useful animals; introducing other sorts from foreign countries; 
new improvements in planting, gardening, and clearing land; and 
all philosophical experiments that let light into the nature of 
things, tend to increase the power of man over matter, and mul- 
tiply the conveniences or pleasures of life, . . . 

^40 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

“Benjamin Franklin, the writer of this Proposal, offers himself 
to serve the Society as their secretary, till they shall be provided 
with one more capable.” 

Franklin could offer to act as secretary, which he knew would be 
the Society’s most laborious and responsible post, because he him- 
self, like the colonies, now saw the end of the “first drudgery” of 
his business. Most men as prosperous as he would have lost interest 
in philosophy. He was more interested than ever. Most philos- 
ophers with as many irons in the fire as he still had would have 
thought themselves distracted. Franklin was specialized to versatil- 
ity. His inquiring temper did not call for isolation. It rvas impor- 
tant that new things should be known, not that he himself should 
find them out. He was philanthropist and publicist as tvell as 
scientist. Let as many men as possible pool their knowledge for the 
good of all men, and he would serve them in any way that might 
be needed. 

That summer he visited New England again, and could do little 
about his proposal till November. Then he went seriously to work, 
and by April 1 744 the Society was organized in Philadelphia and 
uad had several meetings. Of his Junto friends, Thomas Godfrey 
was the Society’s mathematician, Samuel Rhoads its mechanician, 
William Parsons its geographer, and William Coleman its treas- 
urer — and Franklin its secretary. Besides these, there were Thomas 
Hopkinson as president, Thomas Bond as physician, John Bartram 
as botanist, and Phineas Bond as general natural philosopher. 
Among them were able men. Godfrey had already invented his 
quadrant and had been recognized by the Royal Society. John 
Bartram was well under way in his career as, Linnaeus said, the 
greatest “natural botanist” in the contemporary world. Thomas 
Bond, an excellent physician, was soon to plan and, with Frank- 
lin’s help, establish the Pennsylvania Hospital. As corresponding 
members the Society had Robert Hunter Morris, chief justice of 
New Jersey, and Archibald Home, its secretary, and John Coxe 
and Hugh Martyn of Trenton. In New York the first member was 
James Alexander, lawyer and member of the Council, who had 
defended Peter Zenger in his famous trial. “And there are a num- 
ber of others,” Franklin wrote on 5 April 1744 to Cadwallader 

chaj^ter 5 Cadwallader Colden 141 

Golden/^ “in Virginia, Maryland, Carolina, and the New England 
colonies, who we expect to join us as soon as they are acquainted 
that the Society has begun to form itself.’' 

The Society was less active for years than Franklin had hoped it 
would be. “The members . . , here are very idle gentlemen," he 
wrote to Colden after a year and a half. “They will take no 
pains. Their meetings were perhaps irregular, minutes w^ere not 
always kept, and no proceedings or abstracts were published. 
Franklin’s satisfaction in his scheme came chiefly from the corre- 
spondence between him and Colden, begun after the two had met 
accidentally on the road during the summer of 1743- Colden, 
offlcial and scholar in New York, had written his important History 
of the Five Indian Nations (1727), had classified the plants on and 
around his Orange County manor according to the Linnasan sys- 
tem, and was almost equally at home in mathematics, medicine, 
physics, and mental and moral philosophy. He invented — inde- 
pendently if not first — the process now called stereotyping, and 
asked Franklin for his opinion of it. He wrote about the pores of 
the skin, and Franklin not only answered in detail but worked out 
mechanical experiments to prove his point. Franklin asked Colden 
if the diurnal motion of the earth might not cause ships sailing 
across the Atlantic to be slower on the westward than on the east- 
ward voyage,^'^ Colden thought not. Franklin was unpretending. 
“I ought to study the sciences I dabble in before I presume to set 
pen to paper."^^ He was “very willing and ready" to print Golden’s 
Explication of the First Causes of Motion in Matter, and of the 
Cause of Gravitation (1745) my own expense and risk. If I can 
be the means of communicating anything valuable to the world, I 
do not always think of gaining, or even of saving, by my business." 
At the end of 1745 he had resolved to publish an American Philo- 
sophical Miscellany, monthly or quarterly, himself to do all the 
work and take all the responsibility. Colden had proposed the 
miscellany, Franklin was to carry it out.^^ It went no further than 
proposal and resolution. 

Writing his account of the Pennsylvanian fireplace (Franklin 
stove), the inventor remembered that he was a member of the 
American Philosophical Society which he was then organizing. 

142 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

Though this was a pamphlet to help Robert Grace sell the stoves he 
manufactured on Franklin’s model, and Grace paid the printer’s 
bill, Franklin fortified his treatise with learned notes, one of them 
in Latin. He began with a scientific explanation of how heated air 
rises and cold air comes in to take its place. He described the 
various heating arrangements then in use, especially the “im- 
proved” fireplaces with small openings which caused such draughts 
of cold air: “it rushes in at every crevice so strongly as to make a 
continual whistling or howling; and ’tis very uncomfortable as 
well as dangerous to sit against any such crevice. . . . Women, 
particularly, from this cause (as they sit much in the house) get 
colds in the head, rheums, and defluxions, which fall into their 
jaws and gums, and have destroyed early many a fine set of teeth 
in these northern colonies. Great and bright fires do also very 
much contribute to damage the eyes, dry and shrivel the skin, and 
bring on early the appearances of old age.”®® Having artfully 
appealed to women, Franklin went on to explain as if to mechanics, 
with the help of the drawings by Lewis Evans, precisely how the 
Pennsylvanian fireplace was constructed. Then one by one he gave 
fourteen advantages, and answered the objections that had been 
raised. After this, as if his argument were complete and unan- 
swerable, he directed workmen how to install the new stoves. And 
of course there was the saving in fuel. “My common room, I know, 
is made twice as warm as it used to be, with a quarter of the wood 
I formerly consumed there.”®^ This was in November 1744. Frank- 
lin and his family and friends had “used warm rooms for these 
four winters past.”®® He must have invented his stove in 1740 — 
not, as is commonly said, in 1742. But he did not publish his 
account of it till there was a Philosophical Society in Philadelphia. 

He seems to have left no record but a circumstantial legend of 
how he introduced the yellow willow {Salix vitellina) to America. 
The legend says that he found an imported, discarded osier basket 
sprouting in Dock creek and planted some of the shoots in Isaac 
(or Charles) Norris’s garden, where they grew and made the tree 
generally known.®® 

c;haj?'^c br 5 

Magic Squares 



Before there was a Philosophical Society Franklin's own scien- 
tific interests, like those of the colonies, had been dispersed and 
casual. His mind, growing tired of business and relieved by the 
coming of David Hall to be his foreman, swung in inquisitive 
directions. Though it was patient, it seems never to have known 
fatigue or languor. Forced to sit idle, as he sometimes was in drag- 
ging sessions of the Assembly, he would work out mathematical 
puzzles. “Being one day in the country at the house of our common 
friend, the late learned Mr. Logan," Franklin told Peter Collinson 
some time after Logan’s death in 1751, ''he showed me a folio 
French book filled with magic squares, wrote, if I forget not, by 
one M. Frfoicle [Bernard Frenicle de Bessy], in which, he said, the 
author had discovered great ingenuity and dexterity in the man- 
agement of numbers; and, though several other foreigners had 
distinguished themselves in the same way, he did not recollect that 
any one Englishman had done anything of the kind remarkable. 
I said it was perhaps a mark of the good sense of our English 
mathematicians that they would not spend their time in things 
that were merely difficiles nugce, incapable of any useful applica- 
tion. He answered that many of the arithmetical or mathematical 
questions publicly proposed and answered in England were equally 
trifling and useless. 'Perhaps the considering and answering such 
questions,’ I replied, 'may not be altogether useless, if it produces 
by practice an habitual readiness and exactness in mathematical 
disquisitions, which readiness may on many occasions be of real 
use.’ 'In the same way,’ says he, 'may the making of these squares 
be of use.’ I then confessed to him that in my younger days, having 
once some leisure which I still think I might have employed more 
usefully, I had amused myself in making these kind of magic 
squares, and at length had acquired such a knack at it that I could 
fill the ceils of any magic square, of reasonable size, with a series 
of numbers as fast as I could write them, disposed in such a manner 
as that the sums of every row, horizontal, perpendicular, or diag- 
onal, should be equal; but not being satisfied with these, which I 

144 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

looked on as common and easy things, I had imposed on myself 
more difficult tasks, and succeeded in making other magic squares 
with a variety of properties, and much more curious. He then 
showed me several in the same book, of an uncommon and more 
curious kind; but, as I thought none of them equal to some I 
remembered to have made, he desired me to let him see them; and, 
accordingly, the next time I visited him, I carried him a square 
of 8 which I found among my old papers, and which I will now 
give you, with an account of its properties. . . . 



































I 7 































“The properties are: (i) That every straight row, horizontal or 
vertical, of 8 numbers added together makes 260, and half each 
row half 260. (2) That the bent row of 8 numbers, ascending and 
descending diagonally, viz., from 16 ascending to 10, and from 23 
descending to 17, and every one of its parallel bent rows of 8 num- 
bers, make 260. Also the bent row from 52, descending to 54, and 
from 43 ascending to 45, and every one of its parallel bent rows 
of 8 numbers, make 260. Also the bent row from 45 to 43 descend- 
ing to the left, and from 23 to 17 descending to the right, and every 
one of its parallel bent rows of 8 numbers, make 260. Also the bent 
row from 52 to 54 descending to the right, and from 10 to i6 
descending to the left, and every one of its parallel bent rows of 



Mo§i Magical 

8 numbers, make 260. Also the parallel bent rows next to the 
above-mentioned, which are shortened to 3 numbers ascending 
and 3 descending, etc., as from 53 to 4 ascending, and from 29 to 44 
descending, make, with the 2 corner numbers, 260. Also the 2 
numbers, 14, 61 ascending, and 36, 19 descending, with the lower 
4 numbers situated like them, viz., 50, 1 descending and 32, 47 
ascending, make 260. And, lastly, the 4 corner numbers, with the 
4 middle numbers, make 260. .. . 

‘‘Mr. Logan then showed me an old arithmetical book in quarto, 
wrote, I think, by one [Michel] Stifelius, which contained a square 
of 16 that he said he should imagine must have been a work of 
great labour; but if I forget not, it had only the common properties 
of making the same sum, viz., 2056, in every row, horizontal, 
vertical, and diagonal. Not willing to be outdone by Mr. Stifelius, 
even in the size of my square, I went home and made that evening 
the following magical square of 16, which, besides having all the 
properties of the foregoing square of 8, i.e., it would make the 
2056 in all the same rows and diagonals, had this added: that a 
four-square hole being cut in a piece of paper of such a size as to 
take in and show through it just 16 of the little squares, when laid 
on the greater square, the sum of the i6 numbers so appearing 
through the hole, wherever it was placed on the greater square, 
should likewise make 2056. This I sent to our friend the next 
morning, who, after some days, sent it back in a letter with these 
words: ‘I return to thee thy astonishing or most stupendous piece 
of the magical square, in which’ — but the compliment is too ex- 
travagant, and therefore, for his sake as well as my own, I ought 
not to repeat it. Nor is it necessary; for I make no question but you 
will readily allow this square of 16 to be the most magically 
magical of any magic square ever made by any magician. (But 
Barbeu Dubourg, when he was translating Franklin’s works twenty 
years later, found two mistakes in the square.^®) 

Just when Franklin made his early magic square of 8 or his later 
of 16 is not certain, but neither can have been far from the years 
when he was turning from business to science without having yet 
found a subject which compelled him. In the transition he became 
something of a man of pleasure in sober Philadelphia. Comfortable 


Benjamin Franklin 


CHAPTER 5 Drinking Songs 147 

at home, he was convivial in taverns, where he drank rum and 
Madeira, sang songs, and wrote some. 

The antediluvians were all very sober. 

For they had no wine and they brewed no October; 

All wicked, bad livers, on mischief still thinking. 

For there can’t be good living where there is not good drinking. 


’Twas honest old Noah first planted the vine, 

And mended his morals by drinking its wine; 

And thenceforth justly the drinking of water decried; 

For he knew that all mankind by drinking it died. 


Wine and friendship were better than love. 

Fair Venus calls; her voice obey; 

In beauty’s arms spend night and day. 

The joys of love all joys excel, 

And loving’s certainly doing well. 


OhI no! 

Not sol 

For honest souls know 

Friends and a bottle still bear the bell. 

Then let us get money, like bees lay up honey; 

We’ll build us new hives and store each cell. 

The sight of our treasure shall yield us great pleasure; 

We’ll count it and chink it and jingle it well. 

Chorus, OhI nol etc. 

If this does not fit ye, let’s govern the city; 

In power is pleasure no tongue can tell. 

By crowds though you’re teased, your pride shall be pleased. 

And this can make Lucifer happy in hell. 

Chorus. Ohl no! etc. 

Then toss off your glasses and scorn the dull asses 
Who, missing the kerneh still gnaw the shell; 

What’s love, rule, or riches? Wise Solomon teaches 
They’re vanity, vanity, vanity still. 


Benjamin Franklin 



That’s true I 

He knew! 

He’d tried them all through; 

Friends and a bottle still bore the belL®^ 

Another song domestically celebrated a love nearer home than 
Venus. At a supper of the Junto or of some other convivial club it 
was laughingly pointed out that they were all married men and yet 
were singing the praise of poets’ mistresses. The next morning at 
breakfast John Bard — who left Philadelphia for New York in 
1746 — received a new and proper song from Franklin, who asked 
him to be ready to sing it at the next meeting. 

Of their Chloes and Phyllises poets may prate, 

I sing my plain country Joan, 

These twelve years my wife, still the joy of my life; 

Blest day that I made her my own. 

My dear friends, etc. 

Not a word of her face, of her shape, of her air, 

Or of flames or of darts you shall hear; 

I beauty admire but virtue I prize. 

That fades not in seventy years. 

Am I loaded with care, she takes off a large share. 

That the burden ne’er makes me to reel; 

Does good fortune arrive, the joy of my wife 
Quite doubles the pleasure I feel. . . . 

Some faults have we all, and so has my Joan, 

But then they’re exceedingly small; 

And now I’m grown used to them, so like my own, 

I scarcely can see them at all. . . 

Aind in a fourth, which was not by Franklin, he took a special, 
philosophical delight of which in old age he told a friend. 'T 
like ... the concluding sentiment in the old song called The 
Old Man's Wish, wherein, after wishing for a warm house in a 
country town, an easy horse, some good authors, ingenious and 
cheerful companions, a pudding on Sundays, with stout ale and a 


CHAPTER 5 ”Poor Rtchord** Again 

bottle of Burgundy, etc., etc., in separate stanzas, each ending with 
this burden: 

May I govern my passions with absolute sway, 

Grow wiser and better as my strength wears away. 

Without gout or stone, by a gentle decay, 

he adds: 

With courage undaunted may I face my last day. 

And when I am gone may the better sort say: 

In the morning when sober, in the evening when mellow, 

He’s gone and has left not behind him his fellow. 

For he governed his passions, etc. . . , 

I have sung that wishing song a thousand times when I was 

Every year in Poor Richard Franklin put into print for his town 
or country readers the notes he had made on human life, from 
observation or reading. His song in praise of fellowship had a prose 
version: “Great beauty, great strength, and great riches are really 
and truly of no great use; a right heart exceeds all” (1739). In his 
almanac he first announced his reasonable view of the nature of 
sin: “Sin is not hurtful because it is forbidden, but it is forbidden 
because it is hurtful” (1739). “He that falls in love with himself 
will have no rivals” (1739). “Proclaim not all thou knowest, all 
thou owest, all thou hast, nor all thou canst” (1739). “Thou hadst 
better eat salt with the philosophers of Greece than sugar with the 
courtiers of Italy” (1740). “Some are justly laughed at for keeping 
their money foolishly, others for spending it idly; he is the greatest 
fool that lays it out in a purchase of repentance” (1740). “Learn of 
the skilful; he that teaches himself hath a fool for a master” (1741). 
“Lying rides upon debt’s back” (1741). “Up, sluggard, and waste 
not life; in the grave will be sleeping enough” (1741). Once he 
referred by name to himself: 

Ben beats his pate and fancies wit will come; 

But he may knock, there’s nobody at home (1742). 

(Poor Richard was smiling at his creator.) “He that riseth late must 
trot all day, and shall scarce overtake his business at night” (1742). 

150 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

“Sloth (like rust) consumes faster than labour wears” (1744). “The 
eye of a master will do more work than his hand” (1744). “Help, 
hands; for I have no lands” (1745)- “Light-heeled mothers make 
leaden-heeled daughters” (1745). “What’s proper is becoming: See 
the blacksmith with his white silk apron” (1746). “The most 
exquisite folly is made of wisdom spun too fine” (1746). “A life of 
leisure and a life of laziness are two things” (1746)- 

This last note for the almanac of 1746 Franklin made in 1745. 
His father died that year, and the son wrote two of the jocular 
pieces which, though not in his collected works, have surrepti- 
tiously been kept alive in manuscript copies and — lately — private 
and less private printings. 

Writing on 17 August to the lawyer James Read, Franklin took 
a scholar’s liberties in a learned language. “I have been reading 
your letter over again, and, since you desire an answer, I sit me 
down to write you; yet as I write in the market, [it] will I believe 
be but a short one, though I may be long about it. . . . Your copy 
of Kempis must be a corrupt one if it has that passage as you quote 
it: in omnibus requiem qucesivi, sed non inveni, nisi in angulo 
cum libello. The good father understood requiem (pleasure) better, 
and wrote in angulo cum puella. Correct it thus without hesitation. 
I know there is another reading, in angulo puella-, but this reject, 
though more to the point, as an expression too indelicate.”^® There 
were too many interruptions in the market, and Franklin had to 
be brief, in English. 

The best known of his surreptitious writings. Advice to a Young 
Man on the Choice of a Mistress, is in the form of a letter to a 
friend dated 25 June. “I know of no medicine fit to diminish,” 
he began, “the violent natural inclinations you mention; and if I 
did, I think I should not communicate it to you. Marriage is the 
proper remedy. It is the most natural state of man, and therefore 
the state in which you are most likely to find solid happiness. . . . 
It is the man and woman united that make the complete human 
being. Separate, she wants his force of body and strength of reason; 
he, her softness, sensibility, and acute discernment. Together they 
are more likely to succeed in the world. A single man has not 
nearly the value he would have in a state of union. He is an incom- 
plete animal. He resembles the odd half of a pair of scissors. . . . 

CHAPTER 5 On the Choice of a Miiiress 161 

But if you will not take this counsel, and persist in thinking a 
commerce with the sex inevitable, then I repeat my former advice, 
that in all your amours you should prefer old women to young 
ones/’ One by one Franklin gave his sensible reasons, which were 
much like Lord Chesterfield’s, though homelier. 

“Because they have more knowledge of the world, and their 
minds are better stored with observations, their conversation is 
more improving and more lastingly agreeable. . . . Because there 
is no hazard of children. . . , Because through more experience 
they are more prudent and discreet in conducting an intrigue. . . . 
Because in every animal that walks upright, the deficiency of the 
fluids that fill the muscles appears first in the highest part. The face 
first grows lank and wrinkled; then the neck; then the breast and 
arms; the lower parts continuing to the last as plump as ever: so 
that covering all above with a basket, and regarding only what is 
below the girdle, it is impossible of two women to know an old 
one from a young one. . . . Because the sin is less. The debauch- 
ing a virgin may be her ruin and make her for life unhappy* . . . 
Because the compunction is less. The having made a young girl 
miserable may give you frequent bitter reflection; none of which 
can attend the making an old woman happy. * . . And lastly, they 
are so grateful! Thus much for my paradox. But still I advise you 
to marry directly. 

(To this same year has wrongly been ascribed the broadest of 
Franklin’s surreptitious pieces, A Letter to the Royal Academy at 
Brussels^ which was written in France after that academy was 
founded in 1772. On sg January 178^, writing to William Car- 
michael from Passy, Franklin gave permission to print any of his 
“little scribblings” except this one; “which, having several Eng- 
lish puns in it, cannot be translated, and besides has too much 
grossierete to be borne by the polite readers of this nation.”^^ On 
16 September 1785 Franklin sent a copy of the letter to Richard 
Price in London, as “a little jocular paper I wrote some years since 
in ridicule of a prize question given out by a certain academy on 
this side the water/’ Price showed it to Priestley, and the two 
clergymen were ‘'entertained with the pleasantry of it/’^^ It was 
a burlesque of such preposterous scientific schemes as Rabelais and 
Swift had ridiculed. "Let it be considered of how small importance 

Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

to mankind, or to how small part of mankind have been useful, 
those discoveries in science that have heretofore made philosophers 
famous. Are there twenty men in Europe this day the happier, or 
even the easier, for any knowledge they have picked out of 
Aristotle? What comfort can the vortices of Descartes give to a man 
who has whirlwinds in his bowels? The knowledge of Newton’s 
mutual attraction of the particles of matter, can it afford ease to 
him who is racked by their mutual repulsion and the cruel disten- 
sions of occasion?” Broadly but gravely, Franklin proposed re- 
searches which might make crepitation less distressing to individ- 
uals, more agreeable to society. “The generous soul who now 
endeavours to find out whether the friends he entertains like best 
claret or Burgundy, champagne or Madeira, would then inquire 
also whether they chose [the perfume of] musk or lily, rose or 
bergamot, and provide accordingly.”*^) 

In 1746 Franklin wrote the Reflections on Courtship and Mar- 
riage which, though the first of his books to be published in Europe 
(Edinburgh, 1750), has been steadily neglected by his editors and 
biographers. The printer, who was Franklin, pretended not to 
know who the author was: the manuscript had come secretly to the 
press and may not have been meant for publication. It was in the 
form of two letters to a friend, carrying on one side of an argument 
started “the other day” among a group of bachelors, most of whom 
had thought women ignorant and vain, a peril and a nuisance to 
men. The anonymous writer, also Franklin, defended women. 
Given the same education as men, he thought, they would be as 
reasonable and sensible. But usually they were untaught, and they 
were courted with flattery and nonsense. Look at courtship. Too 
often it was undertaken for mercenary reasons or in headstrong 
desire. Franklin thought that interest was a more common motive 
than passion. Interested suitors did not tell the truth about them- 
selves, and so made later disappointments likely. Passionate suitors 
were in such haste that there was no chance for friendship to 
develop. But friendship was the only sound basis for marriage — 
reasonable friendship. “Marriage, or an union of the sexes, though 
it be in itself one of the smallest societies, is the original fountain 
from whence the greatest and most extensive governments have 
derived their beings. ’Tis a monarchical one, having reason for its 

CHAPTERS On Courtship and Marriage 153 

legislator and prince: an authority more noble and sublime than 
any other state can boast Neither reason nor nature pre- 

scribed who should rule in marriage, and men had the right only 
i£ they were more reasonable than women. Marriage was a volun- 
tary contract, binding on both parties to it, for the sake of their 
common welfare and pleasure. 

Franklin was specific. Married persons should avoid petty quar- 
relling. “What fermentations and heats often arise from breaking 
of china, disordering a room, dinner not being ready at a precise 
hour, and a thousand other such impertinent bagatelles. . . . 
These sort of matrimonial squabbles put one in mind of a little 
venomous insect they have in the West Indies, like a gnat, who 
when they bite create a great itching which, if much scratched, 
raises an inflammation so malignant that a leg has been lost by it, 
and sometimes mortifications ensue that have been attended with 
death.”^® Husband and wife, punctilious in their manners, must 
also be scrupulous about their persons. Here, suddenly, Franklin 
sounds a little like Swift, with his modern nerves: “Let us survey 
the morning dress of some women. Downstairs they come, pulling 
up their ungartered, dirty stockings; slipshod, with naked heels 
peeping out; no stays or other decent conveniency, but all flip-flop; 
a sort of a clout thrown about the neck, without form or decency; 
a tumbled, discoloured mob or nightcap, half on and half off, with 
the frowzy hair hanging in sweaty ringlets, staring like Medusa 
with her serpents; shrugging up her petticoats, that are sweeping 
the ground and scarce tied on; hands unwashed, teeth furred, and 
eyes crusted — ^but I beg your pardon. I'll go no farther with this 
sluttish picture, which I am afraid has already turned your 
stomach."^^ Swift, fastidious to the point of sickness, had just died 
or was dying when Franklin wrote. Franklin was stronger, and his 
disgust lasted only for a paragraph, but at the end of his Reflec- 
tions he printed Swift's Letter to a Very Young Lady on Her 
Marriage with its grim advice. 

More like Franklin was The Speech of Polly Baker, which, 
written in Philadelphia, somehow got to England and was printed 
in the Gentleman's Magazine for April 1747. Being prosecuted the 
fifth time “at Connecticut near Boston in New England" for 
having a bastard child, the heroine robustly defended herself for 

154 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

following the laws of her nature if not of the province. “Abstracted 
from the law, I cannot conceive (may it please your honours) 
what the nature of my offence is. I have brought five fine children 
into the world, at the risk of my life; I have maintained them well 
by my own industry, without burdening the township, and would 
have done it better if it had not been for the heavy charges and 
fines I have paid. Can it be a crime (in the nature of things, I 
mean) to add to the king’s subjects, in a new country that really 
wants people? . . . Hoxv can it be believed that heaven is angry 
at my having children, when to the little done by me towards it, 
God has been pleased to add His divine skill and admirable work- 
manship in the formation of their bodies and crowned the whole 
by furnishing them with rational and immortal souls? ... If you, 
gentlemen, must be making laws, do not turn natural and useful 
actions into crimes by your prohibitions.’’ Let them think of her 
first seducer, who was now a magistrate. Let them think of “the 
great and growing number of bachelors” who “by their manner of 
living leave unproduced (which is little better than murder) hun- 
dreds of their posterity to the thousandth generation. Is not this a 
greater offence against the public good than mine? Compel them, 
then, by law, either to marriage or to pay double the fine of 
fornication every year. What must poor young women do, whom 
customs and nature forbid to solicit the men, and who cannot force 
themselves upon husbands, when the law’s take no care to provide 
them any and yet severely punish them if they do their duty with- 
out them? The duty of the first and great command of nature and 
nature’s God, increase and multiply; a duty from the steady per- 
formance of which nothing has been able to deter me, but for its 
sake I have hazarded the loss of the public esteem and have fre- 
quently endured public disgrace and punishment; and therefore 
ought, in my humble opinion, instead of a whipping to have a 
statue erected to my memory.” The court was so much impressed 
by her argument that the next day she was married to one of the 
judges — ^by whom she had fifteen children. 

It is hardly accident that Franklin’s salty year came when, just 
before and after forty, he had at last a clear sense of the leisure 
tcfward which he had long been Working. It is no wonder that his 
spirits roSe or that in cheerful moments he amused himself and 

CHAPTERS A JsTew Ruling Passion 155 

his friends with philosophical ribaldries. A philosopher who had 
arrived at freedom might take his ease in the lively world. But 
Franklin had no impulse to be merely a provincial wit and man of 
pleasure, and soon he had an important ruling passion. *ln 1746, 
being at Boston, I met there with a Dr. Spence, who was lately 
arrived from Scotland and showed me some electric experiments. 
They were imperfectly performed, as he was not very expert; but, 
being on a subject quite new to me, they equally surprised and 
pleased me.’’^^ At home again, Franklin himself began to experi- 
ment. Spence came to Philadelphia, and Franklin bought his 
apparatus. Collinson sent more to the Library Company. Franklin 
gave up the winter to electricity. ‘1 never was before engaged in 
any study that so totally engrossed my attention and my time as 
this has lately done,” he wrote to Collinson 28 March 1747; “for, 
what with making experiments when I can be alone, and repeating 
them to my friends and acquaintance who, trom the novelty of the 
thing, come continually in crowds to see them, I have during 
some months past had little leisure for anything else.”^® 


N OW that electricity has become a daily commonplace it is 
hard to realize what fresh, strange news it was when Franklin 
first thought — perhaps first heard — of it in Boston in the summer 
of 1746. Before that year he might have known that various bodies 
may be electrified by rubbing, so that they will attract lighter ob- 
jects, and that the attracting force may be transferred to other 
bodies. He might have read of frictional machines, mounted ro- 
tating spheres of sulphur or glass, which could be used to charge 
insulated conductors with what was called the electric fluid. 
European scientists already distinguished two kinds of electricity: 
vitreous, produced on glass rubbed with silk, and resinous, pro- 
duced on resin rubbed with wool or fur. But not until January 
1746 had Pieter van Musschenbroek at Leyden discovered the 
electric bottle later known as the Leyden jar, the simplest and for 
years the only known condenser, which was the basis of early elec- 
trical research. William Watson in London quickly followed 
Musschenbroek in his experiments and concluded that all bodies 
contained electricity: uncharged bodies the normal or equilibrium 
amount, charged bodies more or less than that as they contained 
vitreous or resinous electricity, or vice versa. Franklin in the fall 
or winter of the year went forward from the year’s chief discovery 
in science. 

'‘My house,*' he says, “was continually full, for some time, with 
people who came to see these new wonders. To divide a little this 
encumbrance among my friends, I caused a number of similar 
tubes” — similar to the one Collinson had sent the Library Com- 
pany — “to be blown at our glass-house, with which they furnished 
themselves, so that we had at length several performers.”^ Philip 
Syng, a member of the Junto and a skilled silversmith contrived a 

CHAPTER 6 Fir§i Steps in Elediricity 157 

machine to save them labour. “The European papers on electric- 
ity/’ Franklin wrote in the earliest of the reports which he regu- 
larly made to Collinson, “frequently speak of rubbing the tube as 
a fatiguing exercise. Our spheres are fixed on iron axes which pass 
through them. At one end of the axis there is a small handle with 
which you turn the sphere like a common grindstone.”^ Thomas 
Hopkinson, president of the American Philosophical Society, first 
noticed that points “throw off the electrical fire.” Ebenezer Kin- 
nersley, a Baptist minister with no pastorate, discovered that the 
Leyden jar could be electrified as strongly through the tinfoil coat- 
ing as through the wire leading into it, and independently redis- 
covered the “contrary electricities” of glass and sulphur. His lec- 
tures — planned and encouraged by Franklin — ^in Philadelphia, 
Boston, Newport, and New York during 1751-52 made Kinners^ 
ley’s experiments nearly as famous in America as Franklin’s. 

But Franklin, carefully crediting his friends with whatever they 
found out, was the real master of the new knowledge. In his busy 
house in Market Street, working with such pieces of apparatus as a 
saltcellar, a vinegar cruet, a pump handle, or the gold on the bind- 
ing of a book, and “little machines I had roughly made for my- 
self,”^ he had the most spacious views and the most painstaking 
methods. Within a few months he could write to Collinson, on 
28 March 1747, that “we have observed some particular phe- 
nomena that we look upon to be new.”"* By 1 1 July, when he wrote 
at length, he had already hit upon two of his fundamental contri- 
butions: his conception of electricity as a single fluid, and his sub- 
stitution of the terms positive and negative, or plus and minus, for 
vitreous and resinous electricity; and he was full of “the wonderful 
effect of pointed bodies, both in drawing off and throwing off the 
electrical fire,”^ which was to suggest the lightning rod. 

Within another month he had written Collinson two more long 
letters, and then on 14 August sent a hurried note after them. “On 
some further experiments since, I have observed a phenomenon 
or two that I cannot at present account for on the principle laid 
down in those letters, and am therefore become a little diffident of 
my hypothesis and ashamed that I expressed myself in so positive 
a manner. In going on with these experiments how many pretty 
systems do we build which we soon find ourselves obliged to de* 

158 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

stroy! If there is no other use discovered of electricity, this however 
is something considerable, that it may help to make a vain man 
humble. I must now request that you would not expose those 
letters; or if you communicate them to any friends you would at 
least conceal my name.”® In a letter dated i September, he began: 
“The necessary trouble of copying long letters which perhaps, 
when they come to your hands, may contain nothing new or worth 
your reading (so quick is the progress made with you in electricity) 
half discourages me from writing any more on that subject.”’’ Yet 
again he wrote at some length, this time brilliant observations on 
the Leyden jar, which was still mysterious. Then public affairs, 
particularly the defence of the province against the French, claimed 
him, and for a year he had little time for science. But on 29 Septem- 
ber 1748 he had retired from his printing business and moved to 
his new house at the corner of Race and Second Streets, and could 
write to Cadwallader Golden: “I am in a fair way of having no 
other tasks than such as I shall like to give myself and of enjoying 
what I look upon as a great happiness: leisure to read, study, make 
experiments, and converse at large with such ingenious and worthy 
men as are pleased to honour me with their friendship or ac- 
quaintance.”® The winter of 1748-49 was as fruitful as that of 

In the report to Collinson of 29 April 1749 Franklin, continuing 
his observation on the Leyden jar, first pointed out the great part 
played by the dielectric — the glass — and told of making, for the 
first time in history, “what we called an electrical battery, consist- 
ing of eleven panes of large sash-glass, armed with thin leaden 
plates pasted on each side, placed vertically and supported at two 
inches’ distance on silk cords, with thick hooks of leaden wire, one 
from each side, standing upright, distant from each other, and 
convenient communications of wire and chain from the giving 
side of one pane to the receiving side of the other; that so the whole 
might be charged together and with the same labour as one single 
pane.”® How important these matters were he could not know. He 
gave nearly as much space to telling of devices he and his friends 
had worked out to astound the curious. “Chagrined a little that we 
have been hitherto able to produce nothing in this way of use to 
mankind, and die hot weather coming on when electrical experi- 

CHAPTER 6 EleSiricity and Lightning 159 

merits are not so agreeable, it is proposed to put an end to them 
for this season, somewhat humorously, in a party of pleasure on 
the banks of Schuylkill. Spirits, at the same time, are to be fired by 
a spark sent from side to side through the river, without any other 
conductor than the water: an experiment which we some time 
since performed, to the amazement of many. A turkey is to be 
killed for our dinner by the electrical shock, and roasted by the 
electrical jack, before a fire kindled by the electrified bottle; when 
the healths of all the famous electricians in England, Holland, 
France, and Germany are to be drank in electrified bumpers, under 
the discharge of guns from the electrical battery.’'^^ 

Later that year Franklin made an entry in '‘the minutes I used 
to keep of the experiments I made, with memorandums of such as 
I purposed to make. . . . November 7^ 1749^ Electrical fluid agrees 
with lightning in these particulars. 1. Giving light. 2. Colour of 
the light. 3. Crooked direction. 4. Swift motion. 5. Being con- 
ducted by metals. 6. Crack or noise in exploding. 7. Subsisting in 
water or ice. 8. Rending bodies it passes through. 9. Destroying 
animals. 10. Melting metals. 11. Firing inflammable substances. 
12. Sulphureous smell. The electric fluid is attracted by points. We 
do not know whether this property is in lightning. But since they 
agree in all particulars wherein we can already compare them, is it 
not probable they agree likewise in this? Let the experiment be 
made.''^^ Other scientists before Franklin had suspected that light- 
ning was electricity. He set out to find a method of proving it. 

A use for the discovery was promptly in his mind. It cannot 
have been more than a few weeks before he wrote a letter which 
Collinson sent to the Gentleman' s Magazine for May 1750, where 
it has eluded Franklin’s editors. “There is something, however, in 
the experiments of points, sending off or drawing on the electrical 
fire, which has not been fully explained, and which I intend to 
supply in my next. For the doctrine of points is very curious, and 
the effects of them truly wonderful; and, from what I have observed 
on experiments, I am of opinion that houses, ships, and even tow- 
ers and churches may be effectually secured from the strokes of 
lightning by their means; for if, instead of the round balls of Wood 
or metal which are commonly placed on the tops of weathercocks, 
vanes, or spindles of churches, spires, or masts, there should be a 

j go Benjamin Franklin thiladei,phu 

rod of iron eight or ten feet in length, sharpened gradually to a 
point like a needle, and gilt to prevent rusting, or divided into a 
number of points, which would be better, the electrical fire would, 
I think, be drawn out of a cloud silently, before it could come near 
enough to strike; and a light would be seen at the point, like the 
sailors’ corpuzante [corposant: St. Elmo’s fire]. This may seem 
whimsical, but let it pass for the present until I send the experi- 
ments at large.” Here is Franklin’s earliest suggestion of the light- 
ning rod, made when he seems not yet to have thought of the need 
of a ground wire. 

Now he turned his attention to thunder-storms — ^which he 
called thunder-gusts — and wrote out a new hypothesis for Collin- 
son which, though undated, must belong to the first half of 1750. 
Franklin then supposed that clouds formed over the ocean had 
more electricity in them than clouds formed over the land, and 
that when they came close enough together their different charges 
were equalized by the passage of lightning between them. “If two 
gun barrels electrified will strike at two inches’ distance, and make 
a loud snap, to what a great distance may 10,000 acres of electrified 
cloud strike and give its fire, and how loud must be that crack?”^ 
When clouds came close to the earth their electricity was dis- 
charged through “high hills and high trees, lofty towers, spires, 
masts of ships, chimneys, etc., as so many prominencies and 

By 29 July 1750 Franklin was ready to draw up for Collinson. 
who had sent the first electrical tube, and Thomas Penn, who had 
sent the Library Company “a complete electrical apparatus,” a 
summary of the Opinions and Conjectures, concerning the Prop- 
erties and Effects of the Electrical Matter, Arising from Experi- 
ments and Observations, Made at Philadelphia, 1^49. Now, nine 
months after he had privately determined to make his great experi- 
ment, he publicly proposed it, through Collinson to the Royal 
Society. Let the experiment be made. Make the truth useful to 
mankind. “Nor is it of much importance to us to know the manner 
in which nature executes her laws: ’tis enough if we know the laws 
themselves. ’Tis of real use to know that china left in the air unsup- 
ported will fall and break; but how it comes to fall, and why it 

CHAPTER 6 A Dangerous Accident 161 

breaks, are matters o£ speculation. ’Tis a pleasure indeed to know 
them, but we can preserve our china without it.’' 

Now repeating his suggestion of lightning rods, Franklin pro- 
vided also for “a wire down the outside of the building into the 
ground, or down round one of the shrouds of a ship and down her 
side till it reaches the water. ... To determine the question 
whether the clouds that contain lightning are electrified or not, I 
would propose an experiment to be tried where it may be done 
conveniently. On the top of some high tower or steeple place a 
kind of sentry box . . . big enough to contain a man and an elec- 
trical stand [an insulator]. From the middle of the stand let an 
iron rod rise and pass bending out of the door, and then upright 
twenty or thirty feet, pointed very sharp at the end. If the electrical 
stand be kept clean and dry, a man standing on it when such clouds 
are passing low might be electrified and afford sparks, the rod 
drawing fire to him from a cloud. If any danger to the man should 
be apprehended (though I think there would be none), let him 
stand on the floor of his box and now and then bring near to the 
rod the loop of a wire that has one end fastened to the leads, he 
holding it by a wax handle; so the sparks, if the rod is electrified, 
will strike from the rod to the wire and not affect him.”^^ 

Franklin did not know enough about lightning to know how 
dangerous such an experiment might be, and the experience he 
had two days before Christmas the same year did not disturb his 
plans. “Being about to kill a turkey by the shock from two large 
glass jars, containing as much electrical fire as forty common 
phials, I inadvertently took the whole through my own arms and 
body, by receiving the fire from the united top wires with one hand 
while the other held a chain connected with the outsides of both 
jars. The company present (whose talking to me, and to one 
another, I suppose occasioned my inattention to what I was about) 
say that the flash was very great and the crack as loud as a pistol; 
yet, my senses being instantly gone, I neither saw the one nor 
heard the other; nor did I feel the stroke on my hand. ... I then 
felt what I know not well how to describe: a universal blow 
throughout my whole body from head to foot, which seemed within 
as well as without; after which the first thing I took notice of was 

162 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

a violent quick shaking of my body, which gradually remitting, 
my sense as gradually returned. . . . That part of my hand and 
fingers which held the chain was left white, as though the blood 
had been driven out, and remained so eight or ten minutes after, 
feeling like dead fiesh; and I had a numbness in my arms and the 
back of my neck which continued till the next morning but wore 
off. . . . I am ashamed to have been guilty of so notorious a blun- 
der; a match for that of the Irishman . . . who, being about to 
steal powder, made a hole in the cask with a hot iron.” “The 
greatest known effects of common lightning,” Franklin thought 
the next year, might be exceeded by linking up enough electric 
bottles, “which a few years since could not have been believed and 
even now may seem to many a little extravagant to suppose. So we 
are got beyond the skill of Rabelais’s devils of two years old, who, 
he humorously says, had only learnt to thunder and lighten a little 
round the head of a cabbage.”^® 

Again Franklin, soon to be a member of the Assembly and active 
in the founding of a new college and a new hospital, was drawn 
away from philosophic leisure. The Royal Society listened to his 
papers, offered to it by Collinson, but did not value them enough 
to publish them in full. “One paper, which I wrote for Mr. Kin- 
nersley, on the sameness of lightning with electricity, I sent to Dr. 
Mitchel [John Mitchell, who had been Franklin’s correspondent 
while living in Virginia], an acquaintance of mine and one of the 
members also of that society, who wrote me word that it had been 
read, but was laughed at by the connoisseurs.”^® John Fothergill, a 
London physician who was later to be one of Franklin’s best friends 
in England, urged that the electrical letters be printed. Collinson 
turned them over to Edward Cave for his Gentleman’s Magazine, 
but he issued therp in a separate pamphlet as Experiments and 
Observations on Electricity, Made at Philadelphia in America 
(1751), with a preface by Fothergill. Watson, Franklin’s English 
rival in electrical research, read an abstract of the pamphlet to the 
Royal Society on 6 June of that year, in which he asked the mem- 
bers to notice how much Franklin’s observations “coincide with 
and support those which I some time since communicated to the 
Society,” but said not a word about the experiment to find out if 
lightning was electricity and could be prevented by iron rods from 

CHAPTERS A Conjedture Corifirmed in France 1 63 

doing mischief. (Franklin in his own copy of the pamphlet care- 
fully credited Hopkinson, Kinnersley, and Syng with the discov- 
eries they had made.^^) 

France was more hospitable to the new idea. A bad translation 
of Franklin’s book came into the hands of Buffon, then keeper of 
the Jardin du Roi, who advised Thomas-Fran^ois D’Alibard to 
make a better version, published in Paris early in 1752. Scientists 
and public were at once excited. The king himself saw the ''Phila- 
delphian experiments” performed by "M. de Lor, master of experi- 
mental philosophy.” Buffon, D’Alibard, and de Lor determined to 
carry out the greater experiment which Franklin had proposed. 
D’Alibard, first to be successful, did nothing that might not have 
been done in Philadelphia. In a garden at Marly, six leagues from 
Paris, he set up an iron rod, an inch through and forty feet long, 
pointed with brass. Having no cake of resin with which to insulate 
it from the ground, he used a stool w^hich was merely a squared 
plank with three wine bottles for legs. At twenty minutes past two 
on the afternoon of 10 May 1752, there was a single clap of thunder 
followed by hail. D’Alibard was just then absent. A former dragoon 
named Coiffier, left to watch the experiment, heard the thunder 
and hurried to the rod with an electric phial. Sparks came from 
the iron with a crackling sound. Coiffier sent a child for the prior 
of Marly, who had heard the thunder and was already on his way. 
Meeting the child in the road, he began to run. The villagers, 
believing that Coiffier had been killed, ran after the prior through 
the beating hail. Terrified, they stood back ten or a dozen paces 
from the rod, but in broad daylight they could see the sparks and 
hear the crackling while Raulet the prior drew off all the electric 
fire. He sat down and wrote a letter which Coiffier took to 
D’Alibard, who three days later made his report to the Academic 
Royale des Sciences. Following the course which Franklin had out- 
lined, he said, he had arrived at incontestable proof. Franklin’s 
idea was no longer a conjecture.^® 

On 18 May the experiment was repeated by de Lor in Paris. The 
Abb6 Maz^as was commanded by the king to send word to the 
Royal Society in London that he greatly applauded Franklin and 
Collinson. John Canton made a successful experiment in London 
20 July. In England as well as France, and in Belgium, Franklin s 

1 6 ^ Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

theory was proved again and again during the summer of 1752. 
He was famous in Europe before he knew it in America. 


Before that he had thought of another way of proving his theory, 
and with the help of his electrical kite had drawn lightning from 
a cloud. The episode of the kite, so firm and fixed in legend, turns 
out to be dim and mystifying in fact. Franklin himself never wrote 
the story of the most dramatic of his experiments. All that is 
known about what he did on that famous day, of no known date, 
comes from Joseph Priestley’s account, published fifteen years 
afterwards but read in manuscript by Franklin, who must have 
given Priestley the precise, familiar details. 

“As every circumstance relating to so capital a discovery (the 
greatest, perhaps, since the time of Sir Isaac Newton) cannot but 
give pleasure to all my readers, I shall endeavour to gratify them 
with the communication of a few particulars which I have from 
the best authority. 

“The Doctor, having published his method of verifying his 
hypothesis concerning the sameness of electricity with the matter 
of lightning, was waiting for the erection of a spire [on Christ 
Church] in Philadelphia to carry his views into execution; not 
imagining that a pointed rod of a moderate height could answer 
the purpose; when it occurred to him that by means of a common 
kite he could have better access to the regions of thunder than by 
any spire whatever. Preparing, therefore, a large silk handkerchief 
and two cross-sticks of a proper length on which to extend it, he 
took the opportunity of the first approaching thunder-storm to 
take a walk in the fields, in which there was a shed convenient for 
his purpose. But, dreading the ridicule which too commonly at- 
tends unsuccessful attempts in science, he communicated his in- 
tended experiment to nobody but his son” — ^then twenty-one, not 
a child as in the traditional illustrations of the scene — “who as- 
sisted him in raising the kite. 

“The kite being raised, a considerable time elapsed before there 
was any appearance of its being electrified. One very promising 


The EleStrical Kite 


cloud had passed over it without any effect; when, at length, just as 
he was beginning to despair of his contrivance, he observed some 
loose threads of the hempen string to stand erect, and to avoid one 
another, just as if they had been suspended on a common con- 
ductor. Struck with this promising appearance, he immediately 
presented his knuckle to the key, and (let the reader judge of the 
exquisite pleasure he must have felt at that moment) the discovery 
was complete. He perceived a very evident electric spark. Others 
succeeded, even before the string was wet, so as to put the matter 
past all dispute, and when the rain had wet the string he collected 
electric fire very copiously. This happened in June 1752, a month 
after the electricians in France had verified the same theory, but 
before he heard of anything they had done.’'^^ 

Priestley, writing what he could have learned only from Frank- 
lin, and writing under Franklin's eye, could hardly have invented 
these minute circumstances. Nor is Franklin, with his powerful 
and exact memory, likely to have been wrong. If he had wanted — ^ 
what was quite out of character for him — to claim more credit for 
originality than he deserved, he might as well have said he flew the 
kite before his theory had been verified in France. Instead, he 
allowed the French a month's priority. Yet there is this mystery 
about the matter: Franklin, who knew how startling the discovery 
was, and who had a genius for promptly making drama out of news, 
kept the electrical kite a secret till October. He mentioned it to 
none of his correspondents. He wrote nothing about it in the 
Gazette, and apparently did not tell Kinnersley, who lectured on 
electricity in Philadelphia during September without reference to 
this latest triumph. 

Can Franklin deliberately have kept his secret till October so 
that he might publish at the same time, or almost the same time, 
in his newspaper and in his almanac the two most important pieces 
of his year's news? That is what he did. On 19 October his first 
account of the Electrical Kite appeared in the Gazette. The same 
issue advertised as in the press the new Poor Richard for 1753, 
which contained Franklin’s first positive statement of How to 
Secure Houses^ etc., from Lightning. 

‘‘As frequent mention," he wrote in the Gazette, “is made in 
public papers from Europe of the success of the Philadelphia 

IQ6 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

experiment for drawing the electric fire from clouds by means of 
pointed rods of iron erected on high buildings, etc., it may be agree- 
able to the curious to be informed that the same experiment has 
succeeded in Philadelphia, though made in a different and more 
easy manner, which is as follows: 

“Make a small cross of two light strips of cedar, the arms so long 
as to reach to the four corners of a large thin silk handkerchief 
when extended; tie the corners of the handkerchief to the extrem- 
ities of the cross, so you have the body of a kite; which, being 
properly accommodated with a tail, loop, and string, will rise in 
the air, like those made of paper; but this, being of silk, is fitter to 
bear the wet and wind of a thunder-gust without tearing. To the 
top of the upright stick of the cross is to be fixed a very sharp- 
pointed wire, rising a foot or more above the wood. To the end of 
the twine, next the hand> is to be tied a silk ribbon, and where the 
silk and twine join, a key may be fastened. This kite is to be raised 
when a thunder-gust appears to be coming on, and the person who 
holds the string must stand within a door or window, or under 
some cover, so that the silk ribbon may not be wet; and care must 
be taken that the twine does not touch the frame of the door or 
window. As soon as any of the thunder-clouds come over the kite, 
the pointed wire will draw the electric fire from them, and the 
kite, with all the twine, will be electrified, and the loose filaments 
of the twine will stand out every way and be attracted by an 
approaching finger. And when the rain has wet the kite and twine, 
so that it can conduct the electric fire freely, you will find it stream 
out plentifully from the key on the approach of your knuckle. At 
this key the phial may be charged; and from electric fire thus ob- 
tained, spirits may be kindled, and all the other electric experi- 
ments may be performed which are usually done by the help of a 
rubbed glass globe or tube, and thereby the sameness of the electric 
matter with that of lightning completely demonstrated. ”2° 

“It has pleased God in His goodness to mankind,” Franklin said 
in Poor Richard^ “at length to discover to them the means of 
securing tfieir habitations, and other buildings from mischief by 
thunder and lightning. The method is this: Provide a small iron 
rod (it may be made of the rod-iron used by the nailers) but of such 
fl, length, that, one end being three or four feet in the moist ground. 

CHAPTER 6 Lightning Rods 161 

the other may be six or eight feet above the highest part of the 
building. To the upper end of the rod fasten about a foot of brass 
wire the size of a common knitting-needle, sharpened to a fine 
point; the rod may be secured to the house by a few small staples. 
If the house or barn be long, there may be a rod and point at each 
end, and a middling wire along the ridge from one to the other. 
A house thus furnished will not be damaged by lightning, it being 
attracted by the points and passing through the metal into the 
ground without hurting anything. Vessels, also, having a sharp- 
pointed rod fixed on the top of their masts, with a wire from the 
foot of the rod reaching down, round one of the shrouds, to the 
water, will not be hurt by lightning.” 

Again a question: Why were these two epoch-making announce 
ments so circumspectly worded? Franklin described the kite experi- 
ment, but said only that it had succeeded in Philadelphia, not that 
he himself had performed it. (In all his later writings he mentions 
it but once, in that section of the Autobiography, written in 1788, 
which refers to D'Alibard and de Lor: ‘'I will not swell this narra- 
tive with an account of that capital experiment, nor of the infinite 
pleasure I received in the success of a similar one I made soon after 
at Philadelphia, as both are to be found in the histories of elec- 
tricity. Speaking of lightning rods, Franklin said that a method 
of securing houses had been discovered, not that it had been put 
into practice by him, or in America. So far as his words in Poor 
Richard go, he might have been depending on the report from 
France that the experiments of the best naturalists there confirmed 
his theory of points as '"a preservative against thunder.” This he 
could have read in the Gentleman' s Magazine for May, which he 
had seen by 14 September^^ and possibly earlier. 

Every simple explanation of the kite mystery leaves it still con- 
fused. Franklin, it has been guessed by cynics, invented the whole 
story. This is quite out of keeping with his record in science, in 
which he elsewhere appears always truthful and unpretending. It 
has been guessed by kinder sceptics that Franklin, talking with 
Priestley after fifteen years, mistook the month in which he had 
made his discovery: that he made it as he said, but in September. 
The important thing about his recollection is not that he flew the 
kite in June but that he flew it before he knew of the experiments 

268 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

in France. After that there was no need for Franklin to verify an 
experiment which had been satisfactorily verified, and it would 
not have been like him to do it. The chances that he did not do it 
at all are nearly as good as that he did it when proof was no longer 
called for. By 14 September he certainly knew about the French 
experiments, and had probably flown his kite. Yet he did not make 
the kite public in the Gazette till Poor Richard was ready with its 
news of lightning rods. A man who could keep such a secret for 
five weeks could as easily have kept it for four months. 

Whether Franklin is supposed to have flown the most famous of 
all kites in June, or later, or never, little is known about him 
through this mysterious time. “We have had excessive hot weather 
now near two weeks,” he wrote to Susanna Wright on 11 July. 
“This town is a mere oven. ... I languish for the country, for air 
and shade and leisure and converse, but fate has doomed me to be 
stifled and roasted and teased to death in a city.”^® “Business some- 
times obliges one to postpone philosophical amusements,” he 
wrote to John Perkins on 13 August. “Whatever I have wrote of 
that kind are really, as they are entitled, but conjectures and sup 
positions; which ought always to give place when careful observa- 
tion militates against them. I own I have too strong a penchant to 
the building of hypotheses; they indulge my natural indolence. I 
wish I had more of your patience and accuracy in making observa- 
tions, on which alone true philosophy can be founded.”^^ Writing 
to Cadwallader Golden on 14 September, Franklin, in answer to a 
letter written in May, apologized for his neglect of their cor- 
respondence, but said nothing about the kite, and left Golden to 
hear about it from the newspapers. That same month Franklin 
“erected an iron rod to draw the lightning down into my house, 
in order to make some experiments on it, with two bells to give 
notice when the rod should be electrified.”^® 

His rod was “fixed to the top of my chimney and extending 
about nine feet above it. From the foot of this rod a wire (the thick- 
ness of a goose-quill) came through a covered glass tube in the roof 
and down through the well of the staircase; the lower end con- 
nected with the iron spear of a pump. On the staircase opposite to 
my chamber door the wire was divided; the ends separated about 
six inches, a little bell on each end; and between the bells a little 

CHAPTER 6 An Episode’s Chronology 169 

brass ball, suspended by a silk thread, to play between and strike 
the bells when clouds passed with electricity in them. After having 
frequently drawn sparks and charged bottles from the bell of the 
upper wise, I was one night awaked by loud cracks on the staircase. 
Starting up and opening the door, I perceived that the brass ball, 
instead of vibrating as usual between the bells, was repelled and 
kept at a distance from both; while the fire passed, sometimes in 
very large, quick cracks from bell to bell, and sometimes in a con- 
tinued, dense, white stream, seemingly as large as my finger, 
whereby the whole staircase was inlightened as with sunshine, so 
that one might see to pick up a pin.”^® Those bells rang in his 
house for years. 

Though he had, it seems, put up his rod chiefly to get electricity 
for experiments without the work of making it by laborious fric- 
tion, he also thought it protected his house, as other rods protected 
other houses in Philadelphia that year.^'^ When on i October he 
wrote to Collinson about the kite he added a postscript about 
lightning rods. was pleased to hear of the success of my experi- 
ments in France, and that they begin to use points upon their 
buildings. We had before that placed them upon our academy and 
state house spires.”^® This is the earliest American reference to 
lightning rods in actual use. Printing a copy of this letter in the 
Gazette for the 19th (of course long before the original reached 
Collinson and the Royal Society), Franklin left off the postscript. 
The rods on the academy and state house were already known to 
Philadelphia. When they were put up is not clear from Franklin's 
“before that" in the postscript to Collinson. Did he mean before 
the French began to “erect points upon their buildings" in May or 
before he heard about it in September or earlier? If it was before 
May, why did he wait till September to install the rod on his 
house? The whole chronology of the episode is guesswork. But it 
may with some reason be guessed: (1) that Franklin, having pro- 
posed the experiment which D'Alibard verified in May, was wait- 
ing for the high Christ Church spire which he thought he needed; 
(2) that in June he thought of another method of proving his 
theory and flew his kite; (3) that he then, without giving away his 
kite secret, suggested the rods on the lower spires, as much to 
obtain electricity as to safeguard the buildings; (4) and that he 

170 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

came to the idea of a rod on his house only after he had learned 
from the French that no greater height was needed. He felt certain 
enough of the value of such rods to recommend them confidently 
in Poor Richard the next month. But not till eight years later did 
Kinnersley report to Franklin, then in London, that a house in 
Philadelphia had unmistakably been struck by lightning and 
saved by his invention.^® 

Franklin suggested if he did not erect the first lightning rod, 
and he probably flew the first electrical kite, but there are little 
mysteries about both his proof of his great conjecture and his appli- 
cation of it. 


In 1752-53 these were not mysteries but wonders. A man in 
Philadelphia in America, bred a tradesman, remote from the 
learned world, had hit upon a secret which enabled him, and other 
men, to catch and tame the lightning, so dread that it was still 
mythological. To the public, as it gradually heard about him, he 
seemed a magician. To scientists, from the first, he seemed a master. 
He had resounding praise from France, even the applause of the 
king. When Franklin learned of this he felt, he told Jared Eliot on 
12 April 1753, like the girl in the Taller “who was observed to 
grow suddenly proud, and none could guess the reason, till it came 
to be known that she had got on a new pair of garters.”*® His 
account of the electrical kite was read at the Royal Society 21 
December, almost as soon as it could get to London, and was pub- 
lished in the Transactions for that year. Harvard gave him the 
honorary degree of Master of Arts in July 1753. Yale followed with 
the same degree in September, and William and Mary in April 
1756. The Royal Society on 30 November 1753 awarded him the 
Sir Godfrey Copley gold medal “on account of his curious experi- 
ments and observations on electricity,” and on 29 May 1756 elected 
him a member of the Society. “I had not the least expectation,” he 
told Collinson, “of ever arriving at that honour.”®^ Giovanni 
Battista Beccaria made Franklin quickly known and accepted in 


International Renown 


the schools o£ Italy, His electrical writings were translated not 
only into French but also into German (1758) and Italian (1774). 
Throughout Europe he stood first among electricians, as electricity, 
for an excited time, stood first among scientific marvels. The 
Swedish physicist G. W, Richmann in St. Petersburg put up an 
experimental rod in July 1753 and was killed — as Franklin might 
have been if his kite or his rod had happened to draw a heavy bolt 
of lightning. Kinnersley in Philadelphia in 1754 took the trouble 
to explain in his lectures that lightning rods were not presump- 
tuous or irreligious. On this point there were controversies. 

Wonders could not run through the world then as they can now, 
thanks to electricity, but Franklin’s fame reached far beyond those 
who did or could read his books, understand his ingenious experi- 
ments, and enjoy his easy, natural expositions. He had made one of 
the most dramatic guesses in the history of science, and he had 
verified his guess with a boy’s plaything. He had applied his knowl- 
edge to making men’s houses, barns, ships safe from an incalculable 
danger. With what seemed the simplest key he had unlocked one 
of the darkest and most terrifying doors in the unknown universe. 
Here was another hero of the human race, even as against the ter- 
rifying gods. Franklin, Kant said, was a new Prometheus who had 
stolen fire from heaven. 

In the six years between the summer of 1746, when Franklin 
first saw electrical experiments in Boston, and the summer of 175^, 
when he flew the electrical kite in Philadelphia, he made all his 
fundamental contributions to electricity. He made them because 
he had a fundamental mind, which almost at once mastered the 
general problem as it then existed and went deeper into it than 
any observer had yet gone. He found electricity a curiosity and left 
it a science. Indolence, he thought, disposed him too much to the 
building of hypotheses, and he claimed only to have been lucky in 
his guesses. His procedure came from the nature and method of 
his mind. But there was more in his science than a few bold conjec- 
tures. He steadily insisted on the need of painstaking experiments, 
scrupulous accuracy, and a stubborn refusal to surmise what the 
tested facts did not warrant. He regretted his weakness in mathe* 
matics and the frequent interruptions which broke ofiE the chain 

172 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

of thought which he believed should be continuous in a scientist. 
Nobody ever gave more grateful attention than Franklin to experi- 
ments which contradicted this or that theory of his, or more readily 
accepted them if he was convinced that he had been in error. His 
hypotheses grew as his facts accumulated. It did not matter to him 
who got the credit. “These thoughts, my dear friend,” he wrote to 
Collinson at the end of his letter about lightning rods, “are many 
of them crude and hasty; and if I were merely ambitious of acquir- 
ing some reputation in philosophy I ought to keep them by me 
till corrected and improved by time and farther experience. But 
since even short hints and imperfect experiments in any new 
branch of science, being communicated, have oftentimes a good 
effect, in exciting the attention of the ingenious to the subject, and 
so become the occasion of more exact disquisition and more com- 
plete discoveries; you are at liberty to communicate this paper to 
whom you please; it being of more importance that knowledge 
should increase than that your friend should be thought an 
accurate philosopher.”®^ 

As Franklin was not ambitious, neither did he expect too much 
from the world, which he knew as few scientists have known it. 
“There are everywhere a number of people who, being totally 
destitute of any inventive faculty themselves, do not readily con- 
ceive that others may possess it,” he wrote to John Lining on i8 
March 1755. “They think of inventions as miracles: there might 
be such formerly, but they are ceased. With these, everyone who 
offers a new invention is deemed a pretender: he had it from some 
other country or from some book. A man of their own acquaint- 
ance, one who has no more sense than themselves, could not pos- 
sibly, in their opinion, have been the inventor of anything. They 
are confirmed, too, in these sentiments by frequent instances of 
pretensions to invention which vanity is daily producing. That 
vanity too, though an incitement to invention, is at the same time 
the pest of inventors. Jealousy and envy deny the merit or the 
novelty of your invention; but vanity, when the novelty and merit 
are established, claims it for its own. . . . Thus through envy, 
jealousy, and the vanity of competitors for fame, the origin of 
many of the most extraordinary inventions, though produced 


An American Adam 


within but a few centuries past, is involved in doubt and uncer- 
tainty. We scarce know to whom we are indebted for the compass 
and for spectacles; nor have even paper and printing, that record 
everything else, been able to preserve with certainty the name and 
reputation of their inventors. One would not, therefore, of all 
faculties or qualities of the mind, wish for a friend or a child that 
he should have that of invention. For his attempts to benefit man- 
kind in that way, however well imagined, if they do not succeed, 
expose him, though very unjustly, to general ridicule and con- 
tempt; and if they do succeed, to envy, robbery, and abuse.’’®^ 

It may have been knowledge of the world as much as modesty 
that kept Franklin from being too explicit or emphatic about his 
own inventions. Having no envy, jealousy, or vanity in himself, he 
would not run the risk of needlessly rousing them in others. When 
the Abbe Nollet, preceptor to the royal family in France, attacked 
the theories from America, Franklin did not, after a little reflec- 
tion, bother to answer him. ‘1 concluded to let my papers shift for 
themselves, believing it was better to spend what time I could spare 
from public business in making new experiments than in disput- 
ing about those already made.''^^ He refused to patent the lightning 
rod, often called the Franklin rod, or to profit by it. Though he 
never lost sight of what was being done in electricity during his 
whole lifetime, he was perfectly willing to have his contributions 
to it absorbed in the enlarging science. They were absorbed, and 
it is now difficult to trace the details of his influence. His Principia 
made only a beginning. 

But in one discoverable respect he still survives wherever elec- 
tricity is spoken of. Franklin appears to have been the first to use, 
at least in print in English, these electrical terms: armature, bat- 
tery, brush, charged, charging, condense, conductor, discharge, 
electrical fire, electrical shock, electrician, electrified, electrify, 
electrized, Leyden bottle, minus (negative or negatively), nega- 
tively, non-conducting, non-conductor, non-electric, plus (positive 
or positively), stroke (electric shock), uncharged.®® The Philadel- 
phia Prometheus with his kite was also an American Adam in his 
electrical garden. 


Benjamin Franklin 



Franklin was more conspicuous, and more methodical, in elec- 
tricity than in any other branch of science, but his scientific curios- 
ity swung freely in all directions. At twenty, on his voyage from 
London to Philadelphia, he was already a scientist, acute in ob- 
serving and precise in reporting what he saw. During his heavy 
years of business as a printer he had little time for scientific studies, 
though even then he thought often about “natural philosophy,” 
and made friends with such experts as he had a chance to meet — 
particularly the men who became the first members of the Amer- 
ican Philosophical Society. Franklin, offering himself as secretary, 
did not pretend to be an expert himself. Yet in the year he pro- 
posed the Society, 1743, he made an observation which ranks him 
with the first and best meteorologists. He had not as Poor Richard 
forecast the weather annually since 1732 for nothing. 

“We were to have an eclipse of the moon at Philadelphia, on a 
Friday evening [21 October] about nine o’clock. I intended to 
observe it, but was prevented by a north-east storm which came on 
about seven with thick clouds, as usual, that quite obscured the 
whole hemisphere. Yet when the post brought us the Boston news- 
paper, giving an account of the effects of the same storm in those 
parts, I found the beginning of the eclipse had been well observed 
there, though Boston lies north-east of Philadelphia about four 
hundred miles. This puzzled me, because the storm began with us 
so soon as to prevent any observation; and being a north-east storm, 
I imagined it must have begun rather sooner in places farther to 
the north-eastward than it did at Philadelphia. I therefore men- 
tioned it in a letter to my brother who lived at Boston; and he 
informed me that the storm did not begin with them till near 
eleven o’clock, so that they had a good observation of the eclipse. 
And upon comparing all the other accounts I received from the 
several colonies, of the time of beginning of the same storm ... I 
found the beginning to be always later the farther north-east- 
ward. . . . 

"From thence I formed an idea of the cause of these storms, 


JsTorth-Ea^l Storms 

17 a 

which I would explain by a familiar instance or two. Suppose a 
long canal of water stopped at the end by a gate. The water is quite 
at rest till the gate is open, then it begins to move out through the 
gate; the water next the gate is first in motion, and moves towards 
the gate; the water next to the first water moves next, and so on suc- 
cessively till the water at the head of the canal is in motion, which 
is last of all. In this case all the water moves indeed towards the 
gate, but the successive times of beginning motion are the contrary 
way, viz., from the gate backwards to the head of the canal. Again, 
suppose the air in a chamber at rest, no current through the room 
till you make a fire in the chimney. Immediately the air in the 
ciiimney, being rarefied by the fire, rises; the air next the chimney 
flows in to supply its place, moving towards the chimney; and in 
consequence the rest of the air successively, quite back to the door. 
Thus to produce our north-east storms I suppose some great heat 
and rarefaction of the air in or about the Gulf of Mexico; the air 
thence rising has its place supplied by the next more northern, 
cooler, and therefore denser and heavier air; that, being in motion, 
is followed by the next more northern air, eic., etc., in a successive 
current, to which current our coast and inland ridge of mountains 
give the direction of north-east, as they lie north-east and south- 

Franklin’s alert, conjecturing mind here shows itself working in 
its most characteristic ways. Concerned with an eclipse, he noticed 
a storm. He read about it in the newspapers and wrote a letter 
to his brother asking for more information. Other accounts came 
from other colonies. He compared them all, reflected upon them, 
and worked out his hypothesis. It was continental in scope, but 
he reduced it to the simple image of water in a canal or air in 
a room. Submitting his explanation to John Perkins, Franklin 
said: 'If my hypothesis is not the truth, it is at least as naked. For 
I have not with some of our learned moderns disguised my non- 
sense in Greek, clothed it in algebra, or adorned it with fluxions. 
You have it in puris naturalibus”^'^ He threw off his powerful idea 
and left other men to realize that he had taken a first step toward 
a knowledge of the great whirling wind systems now known as 
cyclones and anticyclones. 

In 1744 Franklin, who had begun his correspondence with Cad-* 

176 Benjamin Franklin philadelfhm 

wallader Golden on the subject o£ stereotyping, expounded the 
philosophy as well as the construction of the Pennsylvanian fire- 
places, and in a letter to his father and mother answered their 
questions about various remedies for sickness. During 1745 he 
discussed with Golden the pores of the skin and the circulation of 
the blood. Electricity absorbed him in 1746-47, but five days after 
bis first important letter to Gollinson, Franklin wrote with more 
than usual variety to Jared Eliot, clergyman and physician and 
farmer in Gonnecticut, soon to become the most widely read 
colonial writer on agriculture. Franklin told him about oil mills in 
Pennsylvania, the price of linseed oil, the kind of land used for 
hemp, and the weather for that summer and the two past; and 
offered his new opinion about north-east storms. He agreed with 
Eliot as to the source of most springs, but had another theory con- 
cerning springs on the sides of mountains. “Now I mention moun- 
tains, it occurs [to me] to tell you that the great Appalachian 
Mountains, which run from York River, back of these colonies, to 
the Bay of Mexico, show in many places, near the highest parts of 
them, strata of sea-shells; in some places the marks of them are in 
the solid rock. It is certainly the wreck of a world we live on! We 
have specimens of these sea-shell rocks, broken off near the tops of 
these mountains, brought and deposited in our Library as curios- 
ities. If you have not seen the like. 111 send you a piece. Farther 
about mountains (for ideas will string themselves like ropes of 
onions); when I was once riding in your country, Mr. Walker 
showed me at a distance the bluff side or end of a mountain which 
appeared striped from top to bottom, and told me the stone or 
rock of that mountain was divided by nature into pillars; of this I 
should be glad to have a particular account from you. I think I was 
somewhere near New Haven when I saw it.”®® Then Franklin 
shifted to what seemed to him the bad economics of a law Con- 
necticut had just passed to lay a tax on goods imported from neigh- 
bouring colonies. 

For a year he was taken up with public affairs, but in 1748 he 
told the Swedish botanist Peter Kalm, sent by Linnaeus to America, 
about the ways of ants which Franklin had observed. Believing 
that they had something like speech, he had tried an experiment. 
Ants had got into a little earthen pot of molasses in a closet. He 

CHAPTER (> Franklin' s Farm 177 

shook out all but one of them and hung the pot by a string from a 
nail in the ceiling. When the ant had eaten enough, it managed to 
find its way up the string to the ceiling and down the wall to the 
fioor. Within half an hour a swarm of ants arrived, as if they had 
been told the news, followed the course the pioneer ant had taken, 
ate till they finished the molasses, and then left by string and 
ceiling.^^ Franklin observed the pigeons in the box, big enough for 
six pair, nailed against the wall of his house. "'Though they bred 
as fast as my neighbours’ pigeons,” he Tvrote to Samuel Johnson on 
23 August 1750, "I never had more than six pair, the old and 
strong driving out the young and weak, and obliging them to seek 
new habitations. At length I put up an additional box with com- 
partments for entertaining twelve pair more; and it was soon filled 
with inhabitants, by the overflowing of my first box and of others 
in the neighbourhood.”^^ 

About the time he retired from business Franklin bought a farm 
of three hundred acres near Burlington, New Jersey, and planned 
to “indulge myself,” he wrote to Jared Eliot, “in that kind of life 
which was most agreeable. My fortune (thank God) is such that I 
can enjoy all the necessaries and many of the indulgencies of life; 
but I think that in duty to my children I ought so to manage that 
the profits of my farm may balance the loss my income will suffer 
by my retreat into it.” He began at once to develop and enrich his 
land, particularly “a meadow on which there had never been much 
timber, but it was always overflowed. The soil of it is very fine, 
and black about three foot; then it comes to a fat bluish clay; of this 
meadow I have about eighty acres, forty of which had been ditched 
and mowed. . . . This meadow had been ditched and planted 
with Indian corn, of which it produced about sixty bushels per 
acre. I first scoured up my ditches and drains, and took off all the 
weeds; then I ploughed it and sowed it with oats in the last of 
May [apparently 1748]. In July I mowed them down, together 
with the weeds which grew plentifully among them, and they made 
good fodder. I immediately ploughed it again and kept harrowing 
till there was an appearance of rain; and, on the 23d of August, I 
sowed near thirty acres with red clover and herd-grass, allowing 
six quarts of herd-grass and four pounds of red clover to an acre 
in most parts of it; in other parts, four quarts herd-grass and three 

178 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

pounds red clover. The red clover came up in four days and the 
herd-grass in six days; and I now find that where I allowed the 
most seed it protects itself the better against the frost/’ He was 
surprised that ‘'the herd-grass, whose roots are small and spread 
near the surface, should be less affected by the frost than the red 
clover, whose roots I measured in the last of October, and found 
that many of their taproots penetrated five inches, and from its 
sides threw out near thirty horizontal roots, some of which were 
six inches long, and branched. In other letters to Jared Eliot, 
Franklin asked many acute questions about farming. ‘‘Since for 
want of skill in agriculture I cannot converse with you pertinently 
on that valuable subject,”^^ Franklin explained, he took pains to 
introduce Eliot to Collinson and John Bartram, who were experts. 

Franklin was one of the earliest Americans to perceive that the 
agricultural resources of the country should not be wasted, and 
that farming must be something of a business and a science as well 
as a way of life. His arguments and his example seemed to him to 
have had little effect. “If the farmers in your neighbourhood,” he 
wrote to Eliot, “are as unwilling to leave the beaten road of their 
ancestors as they are near me, it will be difficult to persuade them 
to attempt any improvement.”^^ Farmers were not as flexible as 
traders or as open-minded as philosophers. Franklin was both by 
nature and experience a city man, and not suited to the rural 
tempo. Public affairs drew him back to Philadelphia. But though 
he soon gave up the hope of living on his farm (the exact where- 
abouts of which is now not known), he urged that farming and 
gardening be taught in the new academy which he was founding 
while he farmed, and he remained all his life a realistic friend of 

From 1748 to 1752 Franklin’s varied experiments in electricity, 
his farm, his official duties, and the academy and hospital took 
almost all his time and filled almost all his letters, though here 
and there his general curiosity showed itself fresh and persistent. 
Then on 23 April 1752 he wrote about air and light to Cadwallader 
Golden. “I must own I am much in the dark about light. I am not 
satisfied with the doctrine that supposes particles of matter called 
light, continually driven off from the sun’s surface with a swiftness 
so prodigious. Must not the smallest particle conceivable have. 

CHAPTER 6 A Philosophical Packet 179 

with such a motion, a force exceeding that of a 24-pounder dis- 
charged from a cannon? . . . May not all the phenomena of light 
be more conveniently solved by supposing universal space filled 
with a subtle elastic fluid which, when at rest, is not visible, but 
whose vibrations affect that fine sense the eye as those of air do the 
grosser organs of the ear? We do not, in the case of sound, imagine 
that any sonorous particles are thrown off from a bell, for instance, 
and fly in straight lines to the ear; why must we imagine that 
luminous particles leave the sun and proceed to the eye? ... It 
is well we are not, as poor Galileo was, subject to the Inquisition 
for philosophical heresy. My whispers against the orthodox doc- 
trine, in private letters, would be dangerous.'"^^ Whether he knew 
that Huygens had already propounded the wave theory of light is 
not clear, but Franklin did know that the corpuscular theory, with 
its flying particles, was orthodox. Heretically he embraced the 
theory of the future. He was on ground more native to him — ^that 
is, humane or practical, not metaphysical — ^when in December of 
that year he devised for the use of his brother John in Boston the 
first flexible catheter known to American — ^though not to Euro- 
pean — medical history. “I went immediately to the silversmith’s 
and gave directions for making one (sitting by till it was finished) 
that it might be ready for this post.”^^ 

After 1753, when Franklin became Postmaster-General, he had 
less leisure for science than ever, though he kept up his electrical 
correspondence with Collinson. Somewhat as if he were taking 
leave of a happy chapter of his life, he made up, in November of 
that year, “a small philosophical packet” of letters which, recently 
but at unknown times, he had written to various philosophical 
friends in America. His observations, suppositions, and conjec- 
tures were most of them in physics and meteorology, simple in 
language and close to daily experience. "‘My desk and its lock are, 
I suppose, of the same temperament [temperature] when they have 
long been exposed to the same air; but now, if I lay my hand on 
the wood, it does not seem so cold to me as the lock; because (as I 
imagine) wood is not so good a conductor, to receive and convey 
away the heat from my skin and the adjacent flesh, as metal is. Take 
a piece of wood of the size and shape of a dollar between the thumb 
and fingers of one hand, and a dollar in like manner with the 

1 80 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

other hand; place the edges of both, at the same time, in the flame 
of a candle; and though the edge of the wooden piece takes flame 
and the metal piece does not, yet you will be obliged to drop the 
latter before the former, it conducting the heat more suddenly to 
your fingers. Thus we can without pain handle glass and china 
cups filled with hot liquors, as tea, etc., but not silver ones. A silver 
teapot must have a wooden handle. Perhaps it is for the same reason 
that woollen garments keep the body warmer than linen ones 
equally thick; woollen keeping the natural heat in, or, in other 
words, not conducting it out to the air.”^'^ 

Nowhere throughout this first scientific period of his does 
Franklin appear so nearly full length and to the life as in his 
accounts of a whirlwind which he observed in 1755. “Being in 
Maryland, riding with Colonel Tasker and some other gentleman 
to his country seat where I and my son were entertained by that 
amiable and worthy man with great hospitality and kindness, we 
saw, in the vale below us, a small whirlwind beginning in the road 
and showing itself by the dust it raised and contained. It appeared 
in the form of a sugar loaf, spinning on its point, moving up the 
hill towards us, and enlarging as it came forward. When it passed 
by us, its smaller part near the ground appeared no bigger than a 
common barrel, but, widening upwards, it seemed at forty or fifty 
feet high to be twenty or thirty feet in diameter. The rest of the 
company stood looking after it, but, my curiosity being stronger, 
I followed it, riding close by its side, and observed its licking up in 
its progress all the dust that was under its smaller part. As it is a 
common opinion that a shot fired through a water-spout will break 
it, I tried to break this little whirlwind by striking my whip fre- 
quently through it, but without any effect. Soon after, it quitted 
the road and took into the woods, growing every moment larger 
and stronger, raising instead of dust the old dry leaves with which 
the ground was thick covered, and making a great noise with them 
and the branches of the trees, bending some tall trees round in a 
circle swiftly and very surprisingly, though the progressive motion 
of the whirl was not so swift but that a man on foot might have 
kept pace with it; but the circular motion was amazingly rapid. By 
the leaves it was now filled with I could plainly perceive that the 
current of air they were driven by moved upwards in a spiral line; 


The Whirlwind 


and xvhen I saw the trunks and bodies of large trees enveloped in 
the passing whirk which continued entire after it had left them, I 
no longer wondered that my whip had no effect on it in its smaller 
state. I accompanied it about three-quarters of a mile, till some 
limbs of dead trees, broken off by the whirl, flying about and fall- 
ing near me, made me more apprehensive of danger; and then I 
stopped, looking at the top of it as it went on, which was visible 
by means of the leaves contained in it for a very great height above 
the trees. Many of the leaves, as they got loose from the upper and 
widest part, were scattered in the wind; but so great was their 
height in the air that they appeared no bigger than flies. 

'‘My son, who was by this time come up with me, followed the 
whirlwind till it left the woods and crossed an old tobacco field, 
where, finding neither dust nor leaves to take up, it gradually 
became invisible below as it went away over that field. The course 
of the general wind then blowing was along with us as we travelled, 
and the progressive motion of the whirlwind was in a direction 
nearly opposite, though it did not keep a straight line nor was its 
progressive motion uniform, it making little sallies on either hand 
as it went, proceeding sometimes faster and sometimes slower, and 
seeming sometimes for a few seconds almost stationary, then start- 
ing forward pretty fast again. When we rejoined the company, they 
were admiring the vast height of the leaves now brought by the 
common wind over our heads. These leaves accompanied us as 
we travelled, some falling now and then about us, and some not 
reaching the ground till we had gone near three miles from the 
place where we first saw the whirlwind begin. 

“Upon my asking Colonel Tasker if such whirlwinds were com- 
mon in Maryland, he answered pleasantly: 'No, not at all com^ 
mon; but we got this on purpose to treat Mr. Franklin.' 

“The rest of the company stood looking after it, but, my curiosity 
being stronger, I followed it, riding close by its side.” This is a 
little symbolical history of Franklin as scientist. Going about his 
ordinary affairs, he was more curious than ordinary men and fol- 
lowed up what they only looked at. The ants he observed were in 
his closet, the pigeons in a box on the wall of his house. To warm 
his house, he devised a new kind of stove. To protect his house, he 
thought of the lightning rod. Watching the weather, he followed 

182 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

in his mind the course of a north-east storm for a thousand miles. 
Out of sympathy for his ailing brother he fashioned his catheter. 
Science came so naturally to him that he blamed himself for not 
being more patient and systematic. Actually he was, during his 
first electrical years, as patient and systematic in his studies of 
electricity as any of the scholars he surpassed. He surpassed them 
by the speed and reach of the hypotheses of which he spoke slight- 
ingly. Franklin, for all his home-made machines to experiment 
with and his homely inventions and his eagerness to make scien- 
tific knowledge immediately useful to mankind, was magnificent 
in outlook. He saw sea-shells from the top of a mountain, and saw 
time stretch out behind him in the great age of the earth. He 
guessed that light could not come from the sun in particles but 
on waves in the ether. On the hypothesis that lightning was elec- 
tricity he built the bolder one that it could be proved. In the 
one metaphysical sentence in his writings on electricity he referred 
to “adoring that wisdom which had made all things by weight and 
measure.’ Secular as he was, he had often a vision, not unlike 
religion’s, of an enormous universe of order and law which some- 
time might be understood. Immortal secrets for mortal men. In 
the meantime, he could be delighted, reasonable, and humorous 
about the mysteries. 


S INCE 1739 England had been at war with Spain over British 
smuggling in Spanish America, and since 1744 with France 
over the Austrian succession. Neither war, before 1747, had come 
close to Pennsylvania. The northern colonies protected it from 
the French in Canada, the southern colonies from the Spanish in 
Florida and the Caribbean. Enemy ships cruised off the coast, but 
none of them had found its long and difficult way up the Delaware 
to Philadelphia. Then in July 1747 French and Spanish privateers 
appeared in the bay, plundered two plantations only a little below 
New Castle, captured a ship coming in from Antigua, and mur- 
dered its captain. Franklin, in the midst of his electrical experi- 
ments, was concerned for the safety of the thriving city and the 
rich province. War was a hazard like fire or lightning, and like 
them to be guarded against. Philadelphia had no fort, no artillery, 
no militia. The Quakers, who dominated the Assembly, would not 
vote money to make war. They had no quarrel with Spain or 
France, and they had always been at peace with the Indians. Let 
men who started wars finish them. The richer merchants in Phila- 
delphia refused to give money to protect Quaker property along 
with their own. The Germans on their quiet farms usually sided 
with the Quakers. The Scotch-Irish, still further in the interior, 
did not feel that the danger to the seaboard capital particularly 
threatened them. The men who called for defensive action were 
not a party, and they had as many plans as minds. Franklin left his 
philosophical inquiries for a political problem. 

“I determined to try what might be done by a voluntary associa- 
tion of the people. To promote this I first wrote and published a 
pamphlet entitled Plain T ruth, in which I stated our defenceless 
situation in strong lights, with the necessity of union and discipline 

1 84 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

for our defence, and promised to propose in a few days an associa- 
tion to be generally signed for that purpose. The pamphlet had a 
sudden and surprising effect. I was called upon for the instrument 
of association, and, having settled the draft of it with a few friends, 
I appointed a meeting of the citizens in the large building [built 
for Whitefield]. . . . The house was pretty full; I had prepared 
a number of printed copies, and provided pens and ink dispersed 
all over the room. I harangued them a little on the subject, read 
the paper and explained it, and then distributed the copies, which 
were eagerly signed, not the least objection being made. iWhen the 
company separated and the papers were collected, we found above 
twelve hundred hands.”^ 

So Franklin tersely told the story in 1788. In earlier detail it is 
more interesting and more revealing. Rumours from the West 
Indies said in the fall of 1747 that six French privateers, and per- 
haps others, had made a plot to come together the next year and 
sack Philadelphia. The Quakers were not unanimous in their stand 
against any war whatever. Some of them, including James Logan, 
thought defensive war was justified. They had helped fit out a 
privateer to drive away the raiders the past summer, and now faced 
being excommunicated if they would not recant. Liberal Quakers 
were disaffected, and the other sects disgusted. Franklin saw the 
situation as an opportunity. He talked with William Coleman of 
the Junto, Thomas Hopkinson of the American Philosophical 
Society, and Tench Francis, attorney-general. Together they agreed 
that Franklin should^ as an anonymous tradesman, write against 
Quakers and merchants both, and so, it was hoped, bring the gen- 
eral run of people into unity in their own defence. He would print 
all sides of the controversy in the Gazette, at his own expense, and 
if his newspaper would not hold what was written, he would issue 
pamphlets and send them to his subscribers. First he printed, in 
the Gazette^ verses in praise of Robert Barclay, and next a passage 
from Barclay’s Apology on self-defence. Then came Franklin’s 
own pamphlet: Plain Truth; or, Serious Considerations on the 
Present State of the City of Philadelphia and Province of Penn- 
sylvanifit- By a Tradesman of Philadelphia,^ It was published qu 
Wednesday, 17 November. 

Again Franklin assumed a dramatic role. He could be, in Jhi^ 


CHAPTER 7 Measures for Defence 

argument, as homely as Poor Richard or he could quote Scripture, 
Though a Philadelphian, his tradesman was also very much a 
Pennsylvanian. The danger was not entirely from the sea. Suppose 
the French should arouse the Indians against the back country. 
“Perhaps some in the city, towns, and plantations near the river 
may say to themselves: ‘An Indian war on the frontiers will not 
affect us; the enemy will never come near our habitations; let those 
concerned take care of themselves.' And others who live in the 
country, when they are told of the danger the city is in from at- 
tempts by sea, may say: ‘What is that to us? The enemy will be 
satisfied with the plunder of the town, and never think it worth 
his while to* visit our plantations; let the town take care of itself.’ 
These are not mere suppositions, for I have heard some talk in this 
strange manner. But are these the sentiments of true Pennsyl- 
vanians, of fellow-countrymen, or even of men that have common 
sense or goodness? Is not the whole province one body?” It was to 
the interest of all the people that trade should go on by sea and 
life and property be secure on land. No help would come from the 
Quakers with their religious principles — “may they long enjoy 
them,” the tradesman said. Nor from the merchants, obstinately 
unwilling to raise money if the Quakers would not. “Till of late I 
could scarce believe the story of him who refused to pump in a 
sinking ship because one on board whom he hated would be saved 
by it as well as himself.” No, the “middling people, the farmers, 
shopkeepers, and tradesmen of this city and country” must do what- 
ever was to be done. The tradesman had faith in them. “ ’Tis com- 
puted that we have at least (exclusive of the Quakers) 60,000 fight- 
ing men, acquainted with firearms, many of them hunters and 
marksmen, hardy and bold.” English, Scotch-Irish, German — they 
were all descended from races famous in war. If their leaders would 
not act, they themselves could and would. The tradesman had a 
project which in a few days he would lay before them if they 
cared to hear it. 

The response was so quick and favourable that Franklin called 
a meeting, but it was not the large public affair which he speaks 
of in the Autobiography. First a caucus. On Saturday about a 
hundred men, mostly tradesmen, gathered in Chancellor’s sail-loft, 
according to Richard Peters.^ Franklin, after telling them they had 

1 86 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

taken the lead in every useful undertaking for the good of the city, 
such as the Library and the fire companies, pulled the draft of 
the proposed Association out of his pocket and read it to them. 
They were ready to sign at once. Franklin thought it wiser to 
“offer it, at least, to the gentlemen, and, if they come into it, well 
and good.’' On Monday, according to the GazettCy the plan was 
laid “before a great meeting of the principal gentlemen, mer- 
chants, and others at Roberts’s Coffee House.” The gentlemen 
were as ready as the tradesmen. On their motion the Associa- 
tion — that is, the document to be signed by the volunteers — > 
was printed for use at the large building the next night. As 
Franklin in his Autobiography remembered it, there were twelve 
hundred signers. But a few days after the meeting he told Peters 
the number would soon be a thousand, as the Gazette had already 
promised. Peters, provincial secretary, at once wrote the whole 
story to John and Richard Penn. Franklin had kept him in- 
formed through William Allen, soon to be chief justice. The 
founders of the new Association thought it was no trespass on the 
rights of the proprietors, and hoped they would send cannon for 
the fort. 

The Association spread through the province till there were more 
than ten thousand members of the volunteer militia. They fur- 
nished themselves with arms, formed companies and regiments, 
chose their own officers, and met every week for drill. “The 
women, by subscriptions among themselves, provided silk colours 
which they presented to the companies, painted with different 
devices and mottoes which I supplied.”^ The Philadelphia com- 
panies, through their officers, chose Franklin for colonel, but he 
thought himself unfit and recommended another man, who was 
elected. Franklin’s son William, now sixteen, had tried to ship on 
a privateer, and, balked in this, had been allowed in June 1746 
to join — ensign — one of the four companies raised in Penn- 
sylvania for a campaign against Canada. They had spent the winter 
of 1746-47 at Albany. Franklin on 28 November 1747 ordered 
from Strahan “Folard’s Polybius in French; it is in six volumes 
quarto and costs about three guineas”^ — ^as a kind of textbook for 
his soldier son. The father helped organize a lottery to build a fort 
below the city and furnish it with cannon. Having no heavy guns, 

£!Hapter7 a Philosopher and the Public 187 

they bought thirty-nine from Boston, and ordered more from 
London in addition to whatever the proprietors might or might 
not send as a gift. The London guns would be till summer in 
coming. Franklin wrote at once to Golden to find out whether 
New York would lend guns for the spring, when more privateers 
might be expected. Four commissioners, including Franklin, went 
to New York to make their request to the governor, George 
Clinton. “He at first refused us peremptorily; but at dinner with 
his council, where there was great drinking of Madeira wine as 
the custom of that place then was, he softened by .degrees, and 
said he would lend us six. After a few more bumpers he advanced 
to ten; and at length he very good-naturedly conceded eighteen. 
They were fine cannon, 1 8-pounders, with their carriages, which 
we soon [April 1748] transported and mounted on our battery, 
where the Associators kept a nightly guard while the war lasted, 
and among the rest I regularly took my turn of duty there as a 
common soldier.’'® 

The peace that year gave Franklin a prospect of leisure again. 
He wrote to Strahan 19 October not to send the Polybius, since 
his son had given up military life. He himself refused to be named 
in 1748 for the Assembly. But his skill and zeal in recent affairs 
had made him too well known to be long an undisturbed philos- 
opher. Heretofore Franklin had worked quietly, through the 
Junto, the Library Company, the fire companies, the Masonic 
lodge, the American Philosophical Society, and his post as clerk 
of the Assembly — ^which was only a minor office. Now he was, 
though not an official, a public man. He had enlarged his scope, 
not changed his methods. Feeling the general apprehension, he 
had moved to precipitate and focus it in a policy of defence. 
He had talked it over with his friends. He had widened it through 
his own class, the tradesmen, and carried it to the gentlemen and 
merchants, and on to the entire province. First to suggest the 
scheme, he was first among those who put it into execution. It 
was probably he who thought of buying guns from Boston, and 
certainly he who bought from his brother John, in June, “drums 
and sundry warlike implements.” It was the philosophical Franklin 
who proposed Pennsylvania’s first fast day, Thursday, 7 January 
1748, and drew up the proclamation in a language partly bor- 

188 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

rowed from theological New England: “Forasmuch as it is the 
duty of mankind on all suitable occasions to acknowledge their 
dependence on the Divine Being, to give thanks for the mercies 
received, and no less to deprecate His Judgments and humbly 
pray for His protection . . . That Almighty God would merci- 
fully interpose and still the rage of war among the nations and 
put a stop to the effusion of Christian blood . . . That He ivT>uld 
bless, prosper, and preserve all the British colonies, and particu- 
larly that He would take this province under His protection, 
confound the designs and defeat the attempts of its enemies, and 
unite our hearts and strengthen our hands in every undertaking 
that may be for the public good, and for our defence and security 
in this time of danger; That He would graciously please to- bless 
the succeeding year with health, peace, and plenty, and enable us 
to make a right use of His late afflicting hand in a sincere and 
thorough reformation of our lives and manners/*'^ 

In all this Franklin seems to have made the fewest enemies. 
The liberal Quakers were his friends, and the merchants gladly 
joined his Association. The governor and his council took Franklin 
into their confidence as they had never taken a tradesman before. 
However much he might want to be a philosopher, he had be- 
come too much a public man to be left out of office. “The gov- 
ernor put me into the commission of the peace [1749, 1752]; the 
corporation of the city chose me of the common council [4 October 
1748] and soon after an alderman [1 October 1751]; and the citi- 
zens at large chose me a burgess to represent them in Assembly 
[1751].'’® The Freemasons in 1749 elected him Grand Master of 

Franklin's retirement from business increased the demands 
made on him by the public. Philosophy was not a career in Penn- 
sylvania. If a man was rich and free he should be useful. By pro- 
vincial standards Franklin was rich. A housemaid got ten pounds 
a year, a clerk twenty-five, a tutor in the academy sixty or seventy. 
The salary offered Samuel Johnson to be head of the English 
school was one hundred pounds sterling, and the chief justice 
received two hundred. The governor, the great man of the prov- 
ince, was paid a thousand pounds. Franklin had five hundred 
from David Hall, and possibly as much again from his partnerships 

CHAPTER 7 The JTeed of a College 189 

elsewhere, his post office, his farm, his city real estate, and his 
money at interest. He had wanted wealth only that he might be 
free, and to, be free only that he might be useful. There was in 
him no more of the solitary scholar than of the brooding mystic. 
He was a man of action, whether in science or morals or politics. 
He disliked waste and disorder. Pennsylvania, with its mixture 
of races and its rapid growth and its irregular development, seemed 
to him disorderly. In that confusion he thought in forms — in forms 
which life might take. Greatly as he loved and valued science, he 
could not resist the claims of society. The choice was so close in 
his mind that he felt he was compelled by outward pressure. It 
was the pressure of his own instinct. As a public man he could 
also play a part. And Franklin in public life was as naturally actor 
as writer. 

Pennsylvania, he thought, should have a college. Massachusetts 
had Harvard, Connecticut had Yale, Virginia had William and 
Mary, and the College of New Jersey (later Princeton) had just 
been founded. As early as 1743 Franklin had drawn up a proposal 
for an academy, but had been busy and not too sure of himself, 
and had laid his project temporarily aside. ‘Teace being con- 
cluded, and the Association business therefore at an end, I turned 
my thoughts again to the affair of establishing an academy. The 
first stepT took was to associate in the design a number of active 
friends, of whom the Junto furnished a good part; the next was to 
write and publish a pamphlet, entitled Proposals Relating to the 
Education of Youth in Pennsylvania^^ 

Plain Truth'haid been dramatic and artful. The Proposals was 
straightforward and serious. The first settlers, Franklin said, had 
been many of them well educated in Europe, but education in 
the colony had been neglected. It was time to remedy the neglect. 
He proposed that ''some persons of leisure and public spirit'* be 
incorporated to found and conduct an academy. "That the mem- 
bers of the corporation make it their pleasure, and in some degree 
their business, to visit the academy often, encourage and coun- 
tenance the youth, countenance and assist the masters, and by all 
means in their power advance the usefulness and reputation of 
the design; that they look on the students as in some sort their 
children, treat them with familiarity and aflFection, and, when 

190 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

they have behaved well and gone through their studies and are to 
enter the world, zealously unite and make all the interest that can 
be made to establish them whether in business, offices, marriages, 
or any other thing for their advantage, preferably to all other 
persons whatsoever, even of equal merit/' This was the old method 
of the Junto applied to a new enterprise. The academy should be 
properly housed — “if it may be, not far from a river, having a 
garden, orchard, meadow, and a field or two” — and should have 
a library “with maps of all countries, globes, some mathematical 
instruments, an apparatus for experiments in natural philosophy 
and for mechanics; prints of all kinds, prospects, buildings, ma- 
chines, etc.” The students should “diet together plainly, tem- 
perately, and frugally,” and “be frequently exercised in running, 
leaping, wrestling, and swimming.” A long footnote cited Milton, 
Locke, and others on the benefits of exercise. On swimming Frank- 
lin was in part his own authority: “ 'Tis supposed that every parent 
would be glad to have their children skilled in swimming, if it 
might be learnt in a place chosen for its safety and under the eye 
of a careful person. . . . 'Tis some advantage besides, to be free 
from the slavish terrors many of those feel who cannot swim, when 
they are obliged to be on the water even in crossing a ferry.” 

“As to their studies, it would be well if they could be taught 
everything that is useful and everything that is ornamental. But 
art is long and their time is short. It is therefore proposed that they 
learn those things that are likely to be most useful and most orna- 
mental, regard being had to the several professions for which they 
are intended.” Franklin was explicit. “All should be taught to 
write a fair hand, and swift, as that is useful to all.” He stressed the 
need of drawing, both in text and footnote. “Drawing is a kind of 
universal language, understood by all nations. A man may often 
express his ideas, even to his own countrymen, more clearly with 
a lead pencil or bit of chalk than with his tongue. And many can 
understand a figure that do not comprehend a description in 
words, though ever so properly chosen. . . . Drawing is no less 
useful to a mechanic than to a gentleman. ... By a little skill of 
this kind the workman may perfect his own idea of the thing to be 
done before he begins to work; and show a draft for the encourage^ 
ment and satisfaction of his employer.” The academy should teach 

CHAPTER 7 A Model School 191 

“arithmetic, accounts, and some o£ the first principles of geometry 
and astronomy. . . . Not only the skill but the habit of keeping 
accounts should be acquired by all as being necessary to all. . . . 
The English language might be taught by grammar; in which some 
of our best writers, as Tillotson, Addison, Pope, Algernon Sidney, 
Cato's Letters, etc., should be classics. The styles principally to be 
cultivated being the clear and the concise. Reading should also 
be taught, and pronouncing, properly, distinctly, emphatically; 
not with an even tone, which underdoes, nor a theatrical, which 
overdoes nature.'* Much attention should be paid to writing and 
public speaking. “Almost all kinds of useful knowledge," Franklin 
thought, could be learned through the reading of history: geog- 
raphy, chronology, ancient customs, morality. “Indeed, the general 
natural tendency of reading good history must be to fix in the 
minds of youth deep impressions of the beauty and usefulness of 
virtue of all kinds, public spirit, fortitude, etc." Reading history 
might make students eager to learn Greek and Latin, or French, 
German, and Spanish. “And though all should not be compelled 
to learn Latin, Greek, or the modern foreign languages, yet none 
that have an ardent desire to learn them should be refused; their 
English, arithmetic, and other studies absolutely necessary being at 
the same time not neglected." 

Franklin urged that the students read histories of nature and of 
commerce, “of the invention of arts, rise of manufactures, progress 
of trade, change of its seats, with the reasons, causes, etc." This 
would lead to a curiosity about mechanics, “that art by which weak 
men perform such wonders, labour is saved, manufactures ex- 
pedited, etc." “While they are reading natural history, might not 
a little gardening, planting, grafting, inoculating, etc., be taught 
and practised; and every now and then excursions made to the 
neighbouring plantations of the best farmers, their methods ob- 
served and reasoned upon for the information of youth? The 
improvement of agriculture being useful to all, and skill in it no 
disparagement to any." 

And finally: “With the whole should be constantly inculcated 
and cultivated that benignity of mind which shows itself in search- 
ing for and seizing every opportunity to serve and oblige, and h 
the foundation of what is called good breeding."^® 

1 9 £ Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

This was an exuberant programme for boys from eight to six- 
teen. In a day of rigid classical schools, Franklin took his stand 
with reformers like Milton and Locke and the most advanced con- 
temporary Americans, His programme, if carried out, w^ould have 
made all the students young philosophers. Every theorist designs 
his model school somewhat in his own image. But Franklin’s aim 
was rather to give Philadelphia an academy than to settle in ad- 
vance what should be taught there. He distributed his pamphlet 
“among the principal inhabitants gratis; and as soon as I could 
suppose their minds a little prepared by the perusal of it, I set on 
foot a subscription for opening and supporting an academy; it 
was to be paid in quotas yearly for five years; by so dividing it, I 
judged the subscription might be larger; and I believe it was so, 
amounting to no less, if I remember right, than five thousand 
pounds. A board of twenty-four trustees was formed and on 
13 November 1749 elected Franklin president, a position he held 
till 1756. They promptly hired a house, engaged masters, and 
opened the Academy. 

“The scholars increasing fast, the house was soon found too 
small, and we were looking out for a piece of ground, properly 
situated, with intention to build, when Providence threw into our 
way a large house, already built, which with a few alterations 
might well serve our purpose. This was the building . . . erected 
by the hearers of Mr. Whitefield. . . . The enthusiasm which 
existed when the house was built had long since abated, and its 
trustees had not been able to procure fresh contributions for paying 
the ground-rent and discharging some other debts the building 
had occasioned, which embarrassed them greatly. Being now a 
member of both sets of trustees, that for the building and that for 
the Academy, I had a good opportunity of negotiating with both, 
and brought them finally to an agreement by which the trustees 
for the building were to cede it to those of the Academy, the latter 
undertaking to discharge the debt, to keep for ever open in the 
building a large hall for occasional preachers, according to the 
original intention, and maintain a free school for the instruction 
of poor children. ... By dividing the great and lofty hall into 
stories, and different rooms above and below for the several schools^ 

CHAPTER 7 The Academy of Pennsylvania 1 9 S 

and purchasing some additional ground, the whole was soon made 
fit for our purpose and the scholars removed into the building. 
The care and trouble of agreeing with the workmen, purchasing 
materials, and superintending the work, fell upon me.”^^ 

Upon him, too, fell the work of developing the English school 
and of finding a director for it. His ideas at first went ‘'no farther 
than to procure the means of a good English education . . . and 
I had good reason to know that this was a prevailing part of the 
motives for subscribing with most of the original benefactors.”^^ 
But the richest and most learned among the subscribers insisted 
on a Latin school and assigned to the head of it the title of Rector 
of the Academy, with a salary of two hundred pounds as against 
one hundred for the English master. Franklin wrote out his de^ 
tailed Idea of the English School,^"^ in which he remembered how 
he had learned to write in Boston: “They may now, besides com 
tinning to write letters, begin to write little essays in prose, and 
sometimes in verse, not to make them poets, but for this reason, 
that nothing acquaints a lad so speedily with variety of expression 
as the necessity of finding such words and phrases as will suit with 
the measure, sound, and rhyme of verse, and at the same time well 
express the sentiment. . . . Where the judgment is not ripe 
enough for forming new essays, let the sentiments of a Spectator 
be given, and required to be clothed in a scholar’s own words.” 

During the summer of 1750 Franklin visited Samuel Johnson, 
then minister of the Episcopal church at Stratford, Connecticut, 
later first president of King’s College (now Columbia). By letters 
after his return Franklin tried to persuade Johnson to undertake 
the English school, without success. The partisans of the English 
school had to see it neglected in spite of all Franklin and they 
could do. The Academy was opened 7 January 1751, and the 
charity school 16 September. In 1753 the Trustees of the Academy 
and Charitable School in the Province of Pennsylvania were incor- 
porated by the proprietors, and two years later the corporate name 
became the Trustees of the College, Academy, and Charitable 
School. Franklin, as president till 1756, had a hand in all its affairs. 
But after William Smith became first Provost, in 1756, of the 
College, Academy, and Charitable School, Franklin, though he 


194 Benjamin Franklin 

was a trustee for the rest of his life, had less influence, and 
between him and Smith, on political grounds, there came to be 
intense enmity. 

The Pennsylvania Hospital was proposed not by Franklin but 
by Thomas Bond, the physician among the first ten members of 
the American Philosophical Society. Bond, born in Maryland, had 
come back from his studies in Paris to practise in the rising town 
of Philadelphia, and by 1750 had decided that the province should 
have a hospital for the sick and insane. '‘He was zealous and active 
in endeavouring to procure subscriptions for it, but, the proposal 
being a novelty in America and at first not well understood, he met 
with but small success. At length he came to me with the complh 
ment that he found there was no such thing as carrying a public- 
spirited project through without my being concerned in it. ‘For,* 
says he, ‘I am often asked by those to whom I propose subscribing: 
Have you consulted Franklin about this business? And what does 
he think of it? And when I tell them that I have not (supposing it 
rather out of your line), they do not subscribe, but say they will 
consider of it.* I inquired into the nature and probable utility of 
his scheme, and, receiving from him a very satisfactory explana- 
tion, I not only subscribed to it myself but engaged heartily in the 
design of procuring subscriptions from others.**^® 

Though Franklin as printer had already published medical 
books, and as general philosopher had discussed medical matters 
with various correspondents from Boston to Charleston, he was 
not an expert in medicine. But he was an expert in promotion. He 
got together a meeting of citizens to consider Bond’s scheme. It had 
to be explained to a community which had never seen any medical 
care outside of private houses except in prisons or almshouses. 
Franklin wrote about the hospital in the Gazette for 8 and 15 
August 1751. “The subscriptions afterwards were more free and 
generous; but, beginning to flag, I saw they would be insufficient 
without some assistance from the Assembly, and therefore pro- 
posed to petition for it, which was done.” Franklin — ^who gave 
£25 — ^had actually already drawn up the petition 23 January 1751 
and seen it presented to the Assembly, of which he was clerk. “The 
country members did not at first relish the project; they objected 
that it could only be serviceable to the city, and therefore the cid- 

CHAPTER 7 The Pennsylvania Hospital 195 

zens alone should be at the expense of it; and they doubted 
whether the citizens themselves generally approved of it” Frank- 
lin, clerk and lobbyist, persuaded the country members to vote 
£2000 to the hospital, on condition the subscribers raised an equal 
amount — ^which the legislators thought unlikely. Franklin drafted 
the conditional bill. “The members who had opposed the grant, 
and now conceived they might have the credit of being charitable 
without the expense, agreed to its passage; and then, in soliciting 
subscriptions among the people, we urged the conditional promise 
of the law as an additional motive to give, since every man’s dona- 
tion would be doubled; thus the clause worked both ways. The 
subscriptions accordingly soon exceeded the requisite sum, and 
we claimed and received the public gift, which enabled us to carry 
the design into execution. ... I do not remember any of my 
political manoeuvres the success of which gave me at the time more 
pleasure, or wherein, after thinking of it, I more easily excused 
myself for having made some use of cunning.”^^ 

Member from the first of the board of managers, Franklin on 
28 May 1754 furnished them with the manuscript of Some Account 
of the Pennsylvania Hospital which he had written at their request, 
and which by their order was at once printed by Franklin and 
Hall. Its opening sentence was a whole history of their begin- 
nings: “About the end of the year 1750 some persons who had 
frequent opportunities of observing the distress of such distem- 
pered poor as from time to time came to Philadelphia for the 
advice and assistance of the physicians and surgeons of that city; 
how difficult it was for them to procure suitable lodgings and other 
conveniences proper for their respective cases and how expensive 
the providing good and careful nurses and other attendants for 
want whereof many must suffer greatly, and some probably perish, 
that might otherwise have been restored to health and comfort and 
become useful to themselves, their families, and the public for 
many years after; and considering moreover that even the poor 
inhabitants of this city though they had homes were therein but 
badly accommodated in sickness and could not be so well and so 
easily taken care of in their separate habitations as they might be 
in one convenient house, under one inspection and in the hands 
of skilful nractitioners: and several of the inhabitants of the prov- 

196 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

ince who unhappily became disordered in their senses wandered 
about to the terror of their neighbours, there being no place 
(except the house of correction) in which they might be confined 
and subjected to proper management for their recovery, and that 
house was by no means fitted for such purposes; did charitably 
consult together and confer with their friends and acquaintances 
on the best means of relieving the distressed under those circum- 

On 28 May 1755, when the corner stone of the “convenient and 
handsome” new hospital building was laid in Eighth Street, be- 
ttveen Spruce and Pine, it had an inscription written by Franklin 
m the language of a philanthropic deism. 

In the year of CHRIST 

GEORGE the second happily reigning 
(For he sought the happiness of his people) 

Philadelphia flourishing 

(For its inhabitants were publick spirited) 

This Building, 

By the bounty of the Government, 

And of many private persons, 

Was piously founded 
For the relief of the sick and miserable; 

May the God of Mercies 
Bless the Undertaking. 

On 30 June of that year he was elected president of the board, and 
he presided at the first meeting held in the new building. (During 
the next year he was absent eleven times from the managers’ meet- 
ings, and twice late.) And when, as agent for Pennsylvania, he left 
for England in 1757, he was requested by the trustees to use his 
interest there to solicit donations whenever he had a chance. 

It was a matter of course that when a group of Philadelphia 
business men met 13 April 1752 to organize the first American fire 
insurance company Franklin was one of the twelve directors 
chosen, and that his name stood at the head of the list next to that 
of Governor Hamilton. The Gazette published notices for The 

CHAPTER 7 The Fir§l American ArStic Expedition 197 

Insurance Office, and Franklin and Hall printed thie policies. 
Franklin insured two houses by policies 19 and 20 in the company, 
which is still in existence as the Philadelphia Contri butionship 
for the Insurance of Houses from Loss by Fire. Il: was no less a 
matter of course that he had a principal share in sending the Argo, 
Captain Charles Swaine, from Philadelphia in 1753 on the first 
American voyage of Arctic exploration. Franklin, h^d become 
interested in the Hudson Bay region from reading tlie contro- 
versial writings of Arthur Dobbs and Christopher Middleton in 
1744, and had in his preface to Poor Richard for 1748 given some 
account of northern winters. “And now, my tendex render, thou 
that shudderest when the wind blows a little at N-'l^Vest, and 
Driest: ' ’Tis extrrrrrreme cohohold! ’Tis terrrrrxible coholdF 
what dost thou think of removing to that delightful country? Or 
dost thou not rather choose to stay in Pennsylvania, than.hng God 
that He has caused thy lines to fall in pleasant places?’’ But after 
the British expedition of 1746-47 Franklin took the lead in or- 
ganizing another in Philadelphia, to find if possible ttie North- 
west passage — and to win the reward of £20,000 which P arliament 
had offered for proof that such a passage existed. Neither* Swaine’s 
first voyage, March-November 1753, nor his second the next year 
met with success. But here were the beginnings of a long chapter 
in the history of American adventure.^'^ 


On 12 April 1750 Franklin wrote in more than usual detail to 
his mother, then eighty-three and within two years of her death. 
“We read your writing very easily,” he assured her. ‘d never met 
with a word in your letters but what I could readily understand; 
for, though the hand is not always the best” — she had apologized 
for it — “the sense makes everything plain. My leg whichi you in- 
quire after is now quite well. I shall keep those servants [slaves]; 
but the man not in my own house. I have hired him oizt to the man 
that takes care of my Dutch printing office, who agrees to keep him 
in victuals and clothes and pay me a dollar a week for biis work. 
His wife, since that affair, behaves exceeding well; but we conclude 

198 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

to sell them both the first good opportunity, for we do not like 
Negro servants. . . . 

“As to your grandchildren. Will is now nineteen years of age, 
a tall proper youth, and much of a beau. He acquired a habit of 
idleness on the expedition, but begins of late to apply himself 
to business, and I hope will become an industrious man. He imag- 
ined his father had got enough for him, but I have assured him 
that I intend to spend what little I have myself, if it please God 
that I live long enough; and, as he by no means wants sense, he can 
see by my going on that I am like to be as good as my word. Sally 
grows a fine girl, and is extremely industrious with her needle and 
delights in her book."" Sarah Franklin was not yet seven. “She is of 
a most affectionate temper and perfectly dutiful and obliging to 
her parents, and to all. Perhaps I flatter myself too much, but I 
have hopes that she will prove an ingenious, sensible, notable, and 
worthy woman, like her Aunt Jenny. She goes now to the dancing 

“For my own part, at present I pass my time agreeably enough. 
I enjoy, through mercy, a tolerable share of health. I read a great 
deal, ride a little, do a little business for myself, more for others, 
retire when I can, and go into company when I please; so the years 
roll round, and the last will come, when I would rather have it 
said 'He lived usefully" than 'He died rich." "" 

Philosophers writing to their mothers, like other men, tell what 
they think their mothers would most like to hear, and Franklin 
told rather about his household than about the lightning rod he 
had just proposed or the academy he was helping to found or the 
public demands on his jealous time. There was an air of leisure 
about his letter, for he was then freer than he had recently been or 
was soon to be again. Retired from business, he had not yet seri- 
ously entered politics. That came with his election to the Assembly 
the year following. 

His clerkship had been a long apprenticeship, since 15 October 
1736. On that day, the day after the Assembly convened for its 
annual session, the members voted not to reappoint Joseph Grow- 
don, their former clerk. Then, the record says: “A petition from 
Benjamin Franklin was presented to the House, and read, setting 
forth that he hath been informed this House have a disposition to 

CHAPTER 7 Clerk of the Assembly 19^ 

change their clerk, and if so, he humbly offers his service to them 
in that station. Resolved, that Benjamin Franklin be appointed 
clerk to the House of Representatives for the current year. And he 
was called in and qualified accordingly.’'^® The record hints what 
it does not say. Printer to the province, publisher of a newspaper, 
active in the affairs of the Library Company and the fire companies, 
Franklin had won the favour of men in the Assembly who had, 
before the session, already decided on his appointment. His peti- 
tion was a form, and he was probably waiting outside the door of 
the legislative chamber. Perhaps Stephen Potts was with him, his 
friend of the Junto and his bookbinder, that day appointed door- 
keeper of the Assembly. Franklin at once began his duties, and for 
. fifteen years wrote the record of provincial legislation in his strong, 
smooth prose. 

The Assembly met annually in October and sat, as a rule, for 
irregular periods during October, January, May, and August, 
though special sessions might be called for special business. Frank- 
lin was only an observer, necessarily a close one. “Besides the pay 
for the immediate service as clerk, the place gave me a better 
opportunity of keeping up an interest among the members, which 
secured me the business of printing the votes, laws, paper money, 
and other occasional jobs for the public that, on the whole, were 
very profitable.”^^ When a new member the next year brought 
forward another candidate for clerk, and spoke against Franklin, 
the printer dealt philosophically with the opposition. Having heard 
that the member “had in his library a certain very scarce and curi- 
ous book, I wrote a note to him, expressing my desire of perusing 
that book, and requesting that he would do me the favour of 
lending it to me for a few days. He sent it immediately, and I re- 
turned it in about a week with another note, expressing strongly 
my sense of the favour. When we next met in the House, he spoke 
to me (which he had never done before), and with great civility; 
and he ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occa- 
sions, so that we became great friends and our friendship continued 
to his death. This is another instance of the truth of an old maxim 
I had learned, which says: ‘He that has once done you a kindness 
will be more ready to do you another than he whom you yourself 
have obliged.* 

200 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

Franklin wanted to keep his post because he got money by it, 
but he seems for ten years to have taken no traceable interest in the 
legislation he recorded. When debate was long and tiresome, he 
made magic squares to pass the time. On 4 July 1744 he wrote to 
Strahan: ‘'We have seldom any news on our side of the globe that 
can be interesting to you or yours. All our affairs are petit. They 
have a miniature resemblance only, of the grand things of Europe. 
Our governments, parliaments, wars, treaties, expeditions, fash- 
ions, etc., though matters of great and serious consequence to us, 
can seem but trifles to you. Four days since, our naval force received 
a terrible blow. Fifty sail of the line destroyed would scarce be a 
greater loss to Britain than that to us — and yet 'twas only a 20-gun 
ship sunk, and about one hundred men drowned, just as she was 
going out to sea on a privateering voyage. ... A treaty is riow 
holding at Newtown, in Lancaster County, a place sixty miles west 
of this city, between the governments of Virginia, Maryland, and 
Pennsylvania on one side, and the united Five Nations of Indians 
on the other. I will send you an account of it when printed, as the 
method of doing business with those barbarians may perhaps 
afford you some amusement. 

Writing to his brother John in Boston in March 1745, Franklin 
was humorous about the New England expedition against the 
fortress of Louisbourg in Cape Breton. “Fortified towns are hard 
nuts to crack; and your teeth have not been accustomed to it. . . . 
But some seem to think forts are as easy taken as snuff. . . . You 
have a fast and prayer day for that purpose; in which I compute 
five hundred thousand petitions were offered up to the same effect 
in New England, which, added to the petitions of every family 
morning and evening, multiplied by the number of days since 
January 25th, make forty-five millions of prayers; which, set against 
the prayers of a few priests in the garrison, to the Virgin Mary, give 
a vast balance in your favour. If you do not succeed, I fear I shall 
have but an indifferent opinion of Presbyterian prayers, in such 
cases, as long as I live. Indeed, in attacking strong towns I should 
have more dependence on works than on faith.'’^^ 

A year later and Franklin was grave about the war. There were 
enemy privateers too near for humour. William Franklin, whom 
his affectionate and indulgent father was bringing up as a gentle- 

CHAPTER 7 Assemblyman £01 

man, was a boyish ensign in another expedition against Canada. 
Franklin sided strongly with the governor in his policy of defence. 
Another year, and Franklin, despairing of legislation, had set about 
organizing the volunteer militia. 

In the swift accumulation of oiEfices which followed his first suc- 
cess, his duties as common councilman and alderman of Philadel- 
phia made slight demands on him. “The office of justice of the 
peace I tried a little, by attending a few courts and sitting on 
the bench to hear causes, but, finding that more knowledge of the 
common law than I possessed was necessary to act in the situation 
with credit, I gradually withdrew from it, excusing myself by my 
being obliged to attend the higher duties of a legislator in the 
Assembly.'’^^ As clerk on 13 August I'/Si, Franklin himself may 
have entered in the minutes: “Benjamin Franklin being returned 
a representative to serve in Assembly for the city of Philadelphia, 
he was qualified and took his seat accordingly.”^*^ The next entry 
was the petition of William Franklin, then twenty, to be appointed 
to the vacant clerkship, to which he was promptly chosen and quali- 
fied. At once the elder Franklin was as much involved in Assembly 
business as if he had been member, not merely clerk, for the past 
fifteen years. 

That same day he was put on a committee to draft a bill dealing 
with the exclusion of criminals from the province. It was a matter 
on which he had already written in the Gazette for 9 May.^^ As 
Americanus, he aimed a bitter arrow at the British government, 
xvhich insisted on exporting felons to the colonies, no matter how 
the colonies protested. It was, the mother country said, for the 
“improvement and well peopling” of America. Such parental 
concern, Americanus thought, called for some kind of filial ac- 
knowledgment, and at least the oJffer of repayment. Americanus 
had a plan. “In some of the uninhabited parts of these provinces 
there are numbers of the venomous reptiles we call rattle-snakes: 
felons-convict from the beginning of the world. These, whenever 
we meet with them, we put to death, by virtue of an old law: Thou 
shalt bruise his head. But as this is a sanguinary law, and may seem 
too cruel; and as, however- mischievous those creatures are with us, 
they may possibly change their natures if they were to change the 
climate; I would humbly propose that this general sentence of 

£02 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

death be changed for transportation. In the spring of the year, 
when they first creep out of their holes, they are feeble, heavy, slow, 
and easily taken; and if a small bounty were allowed per head, 
some thousands might be collected annually and transported to 
Britain. There I would propose to have them carefully distributed 
in St. James's Park, in the Spring Gardens and other places of 
pleasure about London; in the gardens of all the nobility and 
gentry throughout the nation; but particularly in the gardens of 
the prime ministers, the lords of trade, and members of Parlia- 
ment, for to them we are most particularly obliged." 

There might be some difficulties in the scheme, but no worse 
than went with the transporting of felons to America. ‘Xet not 
private interests obstruct public utility. Our mother knows what is 
best for us. What is a little housebreaking, shoplifting, or highway 
robbing; what is a son now and then corrupted and hanged, a 
daughter debauched and poxed, a wife stabbed or a husband’s 
throat cut, or a child’s brains beat out with an axe, compared with 
this improvement and well peopling of the colonies?" Whatever 
damage the rattle-snakes might do might be offset by their good 
example. '"May not the honest, rough British gentry, by a famil- 
iarity with these reptiles, learn to creep and to insinuate and to 
slaver and to wriggle into place (and perhaps to poison such as 
stand in their way): qualities of no small advantage to courtiers?" 
This would be a just trade as well as gratitude for a favour. ''Rattle- 
snakes seem the most suitable returns for the human serpents sent 
to us by our mother country. In this, however, as in every other 
branch of trade, she will have the advantage of us. She will reap 
equal benefits without equal risk of the inconveniences and dan- 
gers. For the rattle-snake gives warning before he attempts his 
mischief; which the convict does not." (With this ominous image, 
Franklin sounded his own earliest warning to the British govern- 
ment of the colonies.) 

Now as a member of the Assembly he helped draft the bill re- 
pealing provincial legislation which had imposed a duty upon 
felons sent to Pennsylvania. His first session dealt with other mat- 
ters which had concerned him as a private citizen. The Speaker 
reported that the subscriptions to the hospital had reached £2000, 
and that he had signed an order for a like amount due from the 


Three Issues 


Assembly. The bill to regulate the city watch, proposed by Frank- 
lin, came before the House. On his second day as member, he was 
sent, with the influential Quaker merchant Israel Pemberton, to 
carry a message to the governor, and two days later Franklin was 
assigned to the committee to frame an answer to the governor’s 
message. Within a year he served on both the most honourable 
and the most laborious committees: to wait upon the governor and 
to see that the Great Seal was affixed to the laws; to revise th^ 
minutes before they were printed, to review the whole history and 
present need of paper money, and to search the records of the 
Assembly to find out what share of the Indian expenses had been 
borne by the province and what by the proprietors. Franklin was 
on the Committee of Aggrievances and the Committee of Corre- 
spondence; on committees to study official fees, to consider the 
petition of the bakers as to the price of bread, to regulate the num- 
ber of dogs in the city, and to recommend where it would be best 
to undertake the first bridge across the Schuylkill. 

Many and minute as Franklin’s legislative interests were during 
this and the next five years, there were only three general issues: 
the Indians, paper currency, and the taxation of the proprietary 
lands. On the first of these issues the Assembly and the governor, 
representing the proprietors, were already at deadlock. It was the 
current phase of an old conflict. Pennsylvania had the most famous 
of all the colonial constitutions, and on the whole the best. Wil- 
liam Penn and the original settlers had thought of the colony as a 
“holy experiment,” an asylum for Quakers and other persecuted 
men. The heirs of Penn, no longer Quakers, thought of their prov- 
ince as a source of revenue. Belated feudal lords of the domain, 
they received large sums from leases and quit-rents, and on their 
unsold land had the benefit of steadily rising prices. The Pennsyl- 
vanians had not the temper of feudal vassals. Realizing — to put the 
matter in its simplest terms — that they by their risks and labours 
were making the proprietors rich and richer, they asked the pro- 
prietors to contribute to the cost of the provincial government, 
particularly in its dealings with the Indians. The proprietors took 
the position that they were no more obliged to help meet the public 
charges than any royal governor of any other colony would be. 
The Pennsylvanians held that the Penns were not like royal gov- 

204 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

ernors, but were owners and therefore beneficiaries of the province. 
The Penns believed that they were legally in the right. The Penn- 
sylvanians were sure that they had reason and justice in their 

What made the conflict sharp and tense in 1751, the year Frank- 
lin became a member of the Assembly, was the new restlessness of 
the Indians beyond the Alleghenies, in the region which is now 
western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio. Because the claims of 
Pennsylvania and Virginia to this territory had not yet been ad- 
justed, few settlers had moved into it, but traders were active 
there, and the Indians were troubled. They knew they were no 
longer dealing with men like William Penn, scrupulous and gen- 
erous. The friendly Six Nations (to the earlier Five the Tuscarora 
had been added), Tvho were a kind of buffer confederacy between 
the English and the French, felt themselves invaded from both 
sides. The English were crossing the mountains. The French were 
laying claim to the Ohio valley and planning, or soon to plan, a 
line of forts from Niagara to the junction of the Allegheny and the 
Monongahela. Since the French and English were temporarily at 
peace, neither did more than try to win the Indians by presents, 
which were degenerating into bribes. Almost the whole of Penn- 
sylvania's Indian expenses went to the cost of these gifts and the 
accompanying ceremonies. It was this which the Assembly had in 
mind when, ten days after Franklin took his seat, his committee 
wrote to the proprietors, over the head of the governor, asking 
them to accept as rightly theirs a stated share, year by year, of the 
Indian expenses.' The proprietors refused, after delaying their 
answer till the early part of 1753. 

In October 1751 Franklin's committee brought in, and the 
Assembly passed, a bill for the issue of £40,000 of paper money, 
reduced to £20,000 when the governor returned it without his 
assent. The smaller amount was no more satisfactory to him than 
the larger. Parliament, he pointed out, was opposed to the increase 
of paper currency in the northern colonies, though no binding act 
had been passed. For two years messages went back and forth be- 
tween Assembly and governor, without result. Franklin was in 
prophetic opposition to both proprietors and Parliament. 

As quickly as he had become first among electricians, Franklin 

CHAPTER 7 The Treaty at Carlisle £05 

became first among Pennsylvania politicians. He appears to have 
spoken seldom, for he thought he spoke badly. He worked, rather, 
behind the scenes, shaping opinions, harmonizing differences, and 
at last summing up in incomparable and irresistible statements. 
By th.^ end of 1753 he was far on his way to being head of the 
Assembly, sourly regarded by the Penns as a tribune of the people. 
His recognition abroad, that year, helped his prestige at home. The 
Royal Society*s medal, the honorary degrees from Harvard and 
Yale, and his appointment as Deputy Postmaster-General for all 
the colonies could not be overlooked. And he had helped negotiate 
his first treaty. 


^‘The year following [1752],’' he inaccurately says in his Auto- 
biography, “a treaty being to be held with the Indians at Carlisle, 
the governor sent a message to, the House, proposing that they 
should nominate some of their members, to be joined with some 
members of council, as commissioners for that purpose. The House 
named the Speaker (Mr. Norris) and myself; and, being commis- 
sioned, we went to Carlisle and met the Indians accordingly.'’^® 
Again Franklin had forgotten details, including the date, and his 
biographers, without curiosity as to the original records, have 
neglected one of the most graphic episodes of his Philadelphia 

On 20 September 1753 Governor Hamilton of Pennsylvania re- 
ceived a letter from William Fairfax of Virginia, written at Win- 
chester. He had been in conference, he said, with certain chiefs of 
the Six Nations and their allies, who were returning to their trou- 
bled country and would be glad, on their journey, to meet the 
governor at Carlisle on or before the 22nd. As the Assembly was 
not then in session, Hamilton called together the members who 
were in town. There were six of them, including the Speaker and 
Franklin. Since Governor Dinwiddie of Virginia had not met the 
Indians at Winchester, Hamilton chose not to go in person but to 
send commissioners instead. He chose Richard Peters, secretary of 
the Council, and Isaac Norris and Benjamin Franklin from the 

£06 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

Assembly. Governor, councillors, and assemblymen, meeting on 
the 2ist, decided that the commissioners must take presents with 
them, to be bought out of a fund of £800 already voted by the 
Assembly and now at the disposal of the governor. Commissioned 
the next day, the three left on horseback, followed by wagons 
loaded with goods for the Indians. (The list of goods is not given, 
but they probably included, as at other times, blankets, coats, shoes, 
ruffled shirts, bolts of coloured cloth, guns, powder, lead, flints, 
knives — and rum.) Riding hard, the commissioners followed the 
Lancaster turnpike, crossed the Susquehanna either at Harris's 
Ferry, now Harrisburg, or at Wright’s Ferry, now Columbia, and 
took the rough trail to Carlisle, settled two years before. They 
arrived the 26th. The Indians, later than they had expected to be, 
came the same day. Nearly a hundred of them, men, women, and 
children, were lodged in temporary cabins built outside the town. 

The commissioners, who did not officially know what the In- 
dians had come for, had been instructed only to renew, ratify, and 
confirm the league of amity already existing. But George Croghan 
of Carlisle, the principal Indian trader of Pennsylvania, and 
Andrew Montour, part Huron, part Seneca, and assistant inter- 
preter for the province, had been at Winchester, and they assured 
the commissioners that the party from the Ohio country included 
“some of the most considerable persons" of the Six Nations, Dela- 
wares, Shawnee, Miami (then usually called Twigh twees), and 
Wyandots. The commissioners met the Indians in a kind of pre- 
liminary council and bade them welcome through Montour and 
Conrad Weiser, Pennsylvania's chief interpreter. Business had to 
wait upon ceremony. The Delawares and the Miami had lost sev- 
eral warriors killed by the French and their Indians, and all the 
chiefs of the Wyandots had lately died. “It became necessary to 
condole their loss, and no business could be begun, agreeable to 
the Indian customs, till the condolences were passed; and as these 
could not be made with the usual ceremonies for want of the 
goods, which were not arrived, and it was uncertain when they 
would," the commissioners asked Scarouady, an Oneida chief who 
was spokesman for the Six Nations, whether the Indians would 
accept ceremonial belts and strings and “lists of the particular 
goods intended to be given, with assurances of their delivery as 

CHAPTER 7 Ceremony in the Forest £07 

soon as they should come.” The cautious Scarouady “frankly de- 
clared that the Indians could not proceed to business while the 
blood remained on their garments, and that the condolences could 
not be accepted unless the goods intended to cover the graves were 
actually spread on the ground before them/’^'^ 

Messengers were sent out to hurry up the wagons, and the com- 
missioners talked informally with Scarouady and the chiefs of the 
Delawares and the Shawnee. They learned that the Indians, 
alarmed by the advance of the French to the Ohio, had twice 
warned them not to come further. Then,* after a council fire at 
Logstown (near Pittsburgh), the chief men of the tribes had divided 
into two parties, one to confer with Virginia and Pennsylvania, 
the other to carry to the French the third and final warning. If the 
party led by the Senecan Half King (Scruniyatha) were rebuiffed, 
the Indians friendly to the English must make war on the French. 
The commissioners understood the savage diplomats. They wanted 
presents to keep them friendly. Croghan told the commissioners 
what Virginia had given. The Pennsylvanians decided the goods in 
the wagons were not enough, and bought more in Carlisle “at the 
Philadelphia price,” On i October word came that the Half King's 
warning had had no effect, and the wagons arrived before daylight. 
The ceremony of condolences was set for eleven o’clock, 

(Not Fenimore Cooper tells the story, but the Pennsylvania 
commissioners,^® one of them Benjamin Franklin, who that same 
year printed, in one of Franklin and Hall’s monumental folios, 
A Treaty Held with the Ohio Indicms at Carlisle m October, 
1753 -) 

Present at the ceremony were the three commissioners, twelve 
deputies from the Six Nations, three from the Delawares, fifteen 
from the Shawnee, three from the Miami, and the interpreters 
Weiser and Montour; also the members of the Assembly from 
Cumberland County, and magistrates, gentlemen, and freeholders 
of that frontier. The goods for the day’s presents were already laid 
out on the ground. The commissioners produced their commission 
as evidence of their authority to treat. They announced that the 
Six Nations would join with them in the condolences, and that 
Scarouady would speak for all of them. “Here the commissioners 
gave a string of wampum.” Scarouady spoke to the Miami and 

£08 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

Shawnee. ''1 and my brother Onas [William Penn, or after him any 
governor of Pennsylvania] join together to speak to you, as we 
know that your seats at home are bloody. We wipe away the blood 
and set your seats in order at your council fire, that you may sit 
and consult again in peace and comfort as formerly, that you 
may hold the ancient union and strengthen it, and continue your 
old friendly correspondence.” Here a string was given. Again 
Scarouady: “Brethren Twightwees and Shawonese: We suppose 
that the blood is now washed off. We jointly with our brother 
Onas dig a grave for your warriors killed in your country, and we 
bury their bones decently, wrapping them up in these blankets, 
and with these we cover their graves.” Here goods were given. 
“Brethren Twightwees and Shawonese: I and my brother Onas 
jointly condole with the chiefs of your towns, your women, and 
children, for the loss you have sustained. We wipe your tears 
from your eyes that you may see the sun, and that everything may 
become pleasant and clear to your sight, and we desire you would 
mourn no more.” Here a belt was given. Then the whole ceremony 
was repeated, spoken now to the Delawares and Wyandots. 

The council of the second day was again ceremonial. The com- 
missioners gave the Indians a belt of wampum on which were six 
figures representing the Six Nations, the Delawares, the Shawnee, 
the Wyandots, the Miami, and Pennsylvania, in token of the abso- 
lute unity which they agreed to keep for ever. The Philadelphians 
tactfully urged dispatch. The Indians took their time. On the third 
day Scarouady said what the Indians really meant. Let the English 
remain on their own side of the mountains. Croghan would repre- 
sent the Indians, and the Pennsylvanians through their own agent 
could deal with him. If the French were troubled by the number 
of Pennsylvania traders in the neutral territory, so were the In- 
dians. They wanted only three trading posts, as had been agreed. 
The goods the English sold were too dear. Honest and sober traders 
might be able to sell their goods cheaper, and might bring valuable 
goods like powder and lead, not flour and rum. Scarouady spoke 
strongly against the sale of rum, which ruined the Indians. On the 
fourth and last day the commissioners agreed in principle to the 
three trading posts, but said they must consult their government. 
For the sake of the Indians, the goods would not all be delivered 

CHAPTER 7 Franklw and the Indians £09 

now, but put in charge o£ Croghan till it was sure they were safe. 
That evening the Indians, given the rum they had been refused 
while the treaty was going on, all got drunk. 

Neither an anthropologist nor a romancer, Franklin looked 
upon the Indians always with the humane curiosity and natural 
respect which he felt for any people whose way of life was different 
from his own. He admired the Iroquois confederation, and plainly 
had it in mind in his earliest discussion of the need of union 
among the colonies. 'It would be a strange thing if Six Nations of 
ignorant savages should be capable of forming a scheme for such 
an union, and be able to execute it in such a manner as that it has 
subsisted ages and appears indissoluble; and yet that a like union 
should be impracticable for ten or a dozen English colonies, to 
whom it is more necessary and must be more advantageous, and 
who cannot be supposed to want an equal understanding of their 
interests.’’^^ Franklin seems not to have expected that the Indians 
would become civilized. He took a philosophical pleasure in their 
preference for the savage state. Nor did he foresee the conflict of 
cultures which would at last destroy even the powerful Six Nations. 
Always, so far as his imagination saw, there would be a frontier, 
with a forest for forest men. The Indians' worst enemy was alcohol, 
xvhich in excess Franklin thought an enemy to anybody. As be- 
tween the Indians and the white settlers, he sympathized with the 
Indians. It was not they who broke treaties or drove greedy bar- 
gains or presumed on superior strength. He believed with William 
Penn that civilized justice and savage justice were much the same 
and could live side by side in peace. What was needed was equita- 
ble agreements between the two races, and honest trading. 

This backwoods mission of 1753 was the beginning of Franklin’s 
career in diplomacy. 


F ranklin said in his Autobiography that his rule as to 
public office was ''never ask, never refuse, nor ever resign.”^ 
Sut he had petitioned, at least in form, for his clerkship in the 
Assembly, and he unquestionably asked for the office of Deputy 
Postmaster-General. On 21 May 1751, the month he proposed 
trading American rattle-snakes for British convicts, he wrote to 
Peter Collinson in London, who might have influence with the 
postal authorities.^ Elliot Benger of Virginia, then in charge of 
the colonial post office, was thought to be near death (he died that 
same year), and William Allen, chief justice of Pennsylvania, was 
recommending Franklin as his successor. "I am quite a stranger,** 
Franklin said, "to the manner of managing these applications.** He 
left it in the hands of Collinson and Allen’s London correspondent, 
who was authorized to spend as much as £300 for any needed 
perquisites, fees, and charges. "However, the less it costs the better, 
as *tis for life only, which is a very uncertain tenure.** "The place 
has been commonly reputed worth about £150 a year, but would 
otherwise be very suitable to me, particularly as it would enable 
me to execute a scheme long since formed . . . which I hope 
would soon produce something agreeable to you and all lovers of 
useful knowledge, for I have now a large acquaintance among 
ingenious men in America. I need not tell you that Philadelphia, 
being the centre of the continent colonies and having constant 
communication with the West India islands, is by much a fitter 
place for the situation of a general post office than Virginia, and 
that it would be some reputation to our province to have it estab- 
lished here. I would only add that, as I have a respect for Mr. 
Benger, I should be glad the application were so managed as not 
to give him any ofEence if he should recover,’* 

CHAPTER 8 Po§ima§ler-General 211 

The scheme long since formed was the American Philosophical 
Society which Franklin had proposed ten years before. Although 
it had not been as active as he wished, and his electrical and polit- 
ical interests had somewhat diverted him from general philosophy, 
he had always cherished the idea of the Society, his larger Junto. 
He wanted to bring and keep more and more ingenious men in 
touch with one another, not only in Philadelphia but throughout 
the colonies. One of the difficulties was the slow, expensive, and 
undependable postal system. That would have to be developed, 
and the secretary of the Society thought he could do it. As Phila- 
delphia was the focus of the Society, so might it be of the post 
office in America. Franklin was a citizen of Philadelphia and de- 
sired to make the city important in every way possible. As to 
himself, he could not expect much profit, and for four years he did 
hard work without it. But there was genuine prestige in being an 
officer of the Crown, and this post would give him a better oppor- 
tunity than any other to extend his acquaintance with the whole 
American world. 

In the month of his letter to Collinson, Franklin bought a house 
from the Read family in Market Street, “a little above the prison,*' 
and the foIloTvang January he moved his post office to it from the 
printing-house of Franklin and Hall.^ At the Philadelphia office he 
had the help of his wife and later a clerk. He himself was, 
under Benger, controller of the colonial posts, auditing the ac- 
counts of the local postmasters and carrying out intercolonial plans. 
Benger died, and Franklin, as controller, in the summer of 1753 
spent ten weeks in New England chiefly on postal affairs. Then on 
10 August the heads of the British post office appointed Franklin 
and William Hunter, postmaster of Williamsburg and publisher 
of the Virginia Gazette, to be joint ‘‘Deputy Postmaster and Man- 
ager of all His Majesty’s Provinces and Dominions on the Con- 
tinent of North America,” at a salary of £600 a year between them, 
“to be paid out of the money arising from the postage of letters” — 
that is, if there should be any money left above expenses. The 
general post office had been in Virginia since 1730. Williamsburg 
for the southern colonies and Philadelphia for the northern di- 
vided the postal system between them. The two men worked in 
harmony, and Franklin thought Hunter an able man. But Hunter 

£12 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

was handicapped by ill health, and the principal responsibility fell 
on Franklin. 

The news of Franklin’s appointment can hardly have reached 
him before his return from Carlisle. He promptly made his son 
postmaster of Philadelphia, and the next year promoted him to be 
controller. William Franklin gave up the postmastership to Joseph 
Read, Deborah Franklin’s relative, who later yielded it to Peter 
Franklin, brought from Boston. John Franklin remained in Bos- 
ton, postmaster there from 1754, and after his death in January 
1756 was succeeded by his widow, so far as is known the first 
woman to hold a public office in America. For several months after 
October 1753 Benjamin Franklin was much occupied with the 
Pennsylvania Assembly and the Albany Congress and could take 
only the first steps in postal matters. But he found time to work 
out, apparently at once, a full, explicit, and yet simple system of 
accounting, had forms and instructions printed, and sent them to 
all the local postmasters. He had, as controller, lately improved the 
service in Philadelphia. Within a year he had improved it between 
Philadelphia and the towns to the north. Philadelphia and New 
York were to have, from March to October, three mails a week 
each way instead of one, and two in any but the worst weather. A 
letter could go to Boston and bring an answer to Philadelphia in 
three weeks. During 1754 Franklin visited all the post offices in the 
northern colonies, and during 1755-56 those in Maryland and 
Virginia, becoming acquainted with the postmasters, systematizing 
their accounts, studying their special difficulties, surveying and 
selecting roads, fords, ferries. By the time he sailed for England 
with his son in 1757, still holding his Crown office but leaving his 
partner James Parker in New York as controller, Franklin had 
completely reorganized the colonial post office. The receipts for the 
fourth year were greater than for the first three put together. After 
four years more, with Parker still controller, Franklin and Hunter 
in 1761 could pay back to themselves what they had advanced, and 
could remit to the post office in London the first money that the 
American department had ever earned. 

Most of the changes which Franklin introduced were founded 
on his own experience in Philadelphia. He had been given Brad- 
ford’s place because Bradford was irregular in his accounts. Frank- 

CHAPTERS PoHal Reforms £13 

lin, careful about accounting, required that all the postmasters be 
careful too, and furnished them with a uniform system. He had 
long printed in the Gazette the names of persons who had letters 
waiting for them, and he now introduced this practice in other 
towns which had newspapers. In Philadelphia he established, in ’ 
1753, what was called the penny post. Letters which were not called 
for on the day the post arrived were sent the next day by the penny 
postman — there was only one — for an extra fee. Franklin encour- 
aged the same local delivery in other large towns. Letters adver- 
tised in newspapers and not claimed were after three months 
forwarded to the central office in Philadelphia. This was the begin- 
ning of the Dead Letter Office in America. Though Franklin as 
postmaster at Philadelphia had used his riders to distribute his 
newspaper free, he thought the arrangement monopolistic, and 
abolished it. All newspapers might be sent by mail, and all of them 
must pay postage. What was most valuable among his reforms, he 
made the postmasters and riders from Maine to South Carolina 
aware of the unity and vitality of the postal service, and by his 
improvements in the speed and safety of the mails led them to be 
increasingly used. No one man before him had ever done so much 
to draw the scattered colonies together. 


Franklin's workman-like improvements of the post office were 
characteristic outward acts of his powerful imagination. To realize 
how much the colonies, remote and self-centred, had in common, 
he had to be a philosopher, imaginatively conceiving the large 
design into which the raw facts fitted. To plan to unite them, with 
all their provincial separatisms, into a common enterprise, he had 
to be a statesman. But in being philosopher and statesman he did 
not cease to be Franklin, instinctively working with familiar tools. 
In Europe the social contract might be a more or less metaphysical 
theory. In America it, or something like it, was ordinary practice. 
Associations of men everywhere, from the first settlement, had 
regularly come together to do what was beyond the strength or 
capacity of individuals. Mutual help was taken for granted. The 

214 * Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

members of the Junto were young tradesmen in a town, but in 
forming their club they were not essentially different from pioneers 
building a stockade for their general defence, or farmers assem- 
bling to raise the frame of a house for one of them. Nor was the 
American Philosophical Society diflEerent, except that its scale was 
more than local. It was a club of like-minded men working together 
for mutual help and public benefit. But Franklin's views had 
grown steadily larger during the fifteen years between the Junto 
and the Society, and when, in 1751, he looked toward the office of 
Deputy Postmaster-General, they were larger still. A month before 
he wrote to Collinson he had already outlined his first tentative 
plan for a union of the colonies. 

It was a specific plan for defence against the Indians, whose 
latest threat was not to any single colony but to all the English 
alike. The matter came up in the way of business. Archibald Ken- 
nedy, a member of the governor's council in New York, had written 
a pamphlet, The Importance of Gaining and Preserving the 
Friendship of the Indians to the British Interest Considered^ and 
had given it to James Parker to be printed. Parker sent the manu- 
script to his Philadelphia partner for an opinion. Franklin, reply- 
ing on 20 March 1751 and heartily approving, offered further 
suggestions. “The union of the colonies, however necessary, I 
apprehend is not to be brought about by the means that have hith- 
erto been used for that purpose. A governor of one colony, who 
happens from some circumstance in his own government to see the 
necessity of such an union, writes his sentiments of the matter to 
the other governors, and desires them to recommend it to their 
respective assemblies. They accordingly lay the letters before those 
assemblies and perhaps recommend the proposal in general words. 
But governors are often on ill terms with their assemblies, and 
seldom are the men that have the most influence among them. And 
perhaps some governors, though they openly recommend the 
scheme, may privately throw cold water on it, as thinking addi- 
tional public charges will make their people less able or less willing 
to give to them. Or perhaps they do not clearly see the necessity of 
it, and therefore do not very earnestly press the consideration of it; 
and no one being present that has the affair at heart, to back it, to 

CHAPTER 8 A Plan of Union £15 

answer and remove objections, etc., ’tis easily dropped, and nothing 
is done. . . . 

'‘Now if you were to pick out half a dozen men of good under- 
standing and address, and furnish them with a reasonable scheme 
and proper mstructions, and send them in the nature of ambassa- 
dors to the other colonies, where they might apply particularly to 
all the leading men and by proper management get them to engage 
in promoting the scheme; where, by being present, they would 
have the opportunity of pressing the affair both in public and 
private, obviating difficulties as they arise, answering objections as 
soon as they are made, before they spread and gather strength in 
the minds of the people, etc., etc.; I imagine such an union might 
thereby be made and established. For reasonable, sensible men can 
always make a reasonable scheme appear such to other reasonable 
men, if they take pains and have time and opportunity for it; un- 
less from some circumstances their honesty and good intentions are 
suspected. A voluntary union entered into by the colonies them- 
selves, I think, would be preferable to one imposed by Parliament; 
for it would be perhaps not much more difficult to procure, and 
more easy to alter and improve as circumstances should require and 
experience direct.”^ 

As to the details of his scheme, Franklin proposed an inter- 
colonial council of Indian ajffairs and defence, made up of repre- 
sentatives from all the colonies, with a governor appointed by the 
Crown, The money needed might best be raised, he thought, by an 
excise on strong liquors, and the amount paid by each colony 
might determine the number of its representatives* The council 
would decide what was to be done, and their governor, acting for 
the Crown, would put it into executiom To avoid jealousy among 
the colonies, the council might meet in turn in the various capitals. 
This would also serve to make the members familiar with other 
colonies besides their own. The details are less important than 
Franklin’s central idea that the union should originate with the 
colonies themselves and should carry out their plans with their 
money, after they had reasonably agreed. 

There was more than political shrewdness in his idea. Back of it 
lay a large, new conception of the whole of American life. That 

^16 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

same year, in his Observations concerning the Increase of Man- 
kindj Peopling of Countries^ etc,,^ Franklin laid down first prin- 
ciples which were to colour much of his later social thought and 
action. Though he did not publish it till 1755, he sent it to other 
members of the American Philosophical Society, at least Bartram 
and Golden, for their opinions. He had, being Franklin, an imme- 
diate occasion: the Parliamentary act of 1750 restricting, on the 
complaint of British iron-masters, the manufacture of iron in 
Pennsylvania. But he mote like a philosopher, looking behind 
politics to find something fundamental in the national behaviour. 
He studied it in the people themselves, in the basic matter of the 
increase of population. 

America was no more like Europe in this respect, he said, than 
the country was like cities. Europe, like cities, was crowded with 
men who because of the difficulty of making a living might put off 
marriage or not marry at all, and so kept the population down. In 
America there was room. '‘So vast is the territory . . . that it will 
require many ages to settle it fully. ... No man continues long 
a labourer for others, but gets a plantation of his own. No man 
continues long a journeyman to a trade, but goes among these new 
settlers and sets up for himself.'’ Marriages were more common in 
America, and earlier, than in Europe, and the population doubled, 
he thought, and would go on doubling every twenty years. Labour 
could not, in the circumstances, become cheap, and England need 
not fear the competition of her colonies in “trades that depend on 
labour, manufactures, etc.” Whatever the British might think, 
slave labour was expensive: “reckon . . . the interest on the first 
purchase of a slave, the insurance or risk on his life, his clothing 
and diet, expenses in his sickness and loss of time, loss by his 
neglect of business (neglect is natural to the man who is not to be 
benefited by his own care or diligence), expense of a driver to keep 
him at work, and his pilfering from time to time (almost every 
slave being by nature a thief).” Americans bought slaves only be- 
cause they might be owned and used “as long as a man pleases, or 
has occasion for their labour; while hired men are continually 
leaving their masters.” But America with its growing population 
was a growing market for manufactures, whether British or Amer- 


CHAPTER 8 Before Maltkus 

ican. “Therefore Britain should not too much restrain manufac- 
tures in her colonies. A wise and good mother will not do it. To 
distress is to weaken, and weakening the children weakens the 
whole family.” 

Almost half a century before Malthus, Franklin saw that the 
means of subsistence determined the increase of population, 
through its effect on the ease or difficulty of marriage. “There is, 
in short, no bound to the prolific nature of plants or animals but 
what is made by their crowding and interfering with each other’s 
means of subsistence. Was the face of the earth vacant of other 
plants, it might be gradually sowed and overspread with one kind 
only; as, for instance, with fennel. And were it empty of other 
inhabitants, it might in a few ages be replenished from one nation 
only; as, for instance, with Englishmen. Thus there are supposed 
to be now upwards of one million English souls in North America 
(though ’tis thought scarce 80,000 have been brought over sea), and 
yet perhaps there is not one fewer in Britain, but rather many 
more, on account of the employment the colonies afford to manu- 
facturers at home. This million, doubling suppose but once in 
twenty-five years, will in another century be more than the people 
of England, and the greatest number of Englishmen will be on this 
side the water. What an accession of power to the British Empire 
by sea as well as land! What increase of trade and navigation! What 
numbers of ships and seamen! . . . How important an affair then 
to Britain is the present treaty for settling the bounds between her 
colonies and the French, and how careful should she be to secure 
room enough, since on the room depends so much the increase of 
her people.” 

Here is the earliest clear statement of the function of the Amer- 
ican frontier. By giving room enough, Franklin thought, it would 
furnish opportunity for many ages of unchecked human increase 
and prosperity. Thanks to it, life in America had an enormous 
future — the life of the whole country, not merely of this or that 
colony. It could not be regulated from London, because static 
England would not understand dynamic America. Americans who 
knew their own natures must make their own rules. But Franklin 
had still no notion of American independence except for local 

^18 Benjamin Franklin philadelphi/j 

rights and responsibilities within the frame of empire. The Amer- 
ican frontier was the British frontier, and rising America a part of 
widening Britain. 

In the midst of his imaginative imperialism he had a touch of 
Anglo-Saxon insularity, and in the first edition of his Increase of 
Mankind — though not the later ones — ^he questioned the admis- 
sion of any but Englishmen to the colonies. ‘‘Why should the 
Palatine boors be suffered to swarm into our settlements and, by 
herding together, establish their language and manners to the 
exclusion of ours? Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the Eng- 
lish, become a colony of aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as 
to Germanize us, instead of our Anglifying them?” Franklin was 
at the time resentful of the Pennsylvania Germans, who were polit- 
ically backward and intractable, economically below English stand- 
ards. But he ended his remarks, though with bad ethnology, yet 
with better temper. “The number of purely white people in the 
world is proportionably very small. All Africa is black or tawny; 
Asia chiefly tawny; America (exclusive of the newcomers) wholly 
so. And in Europe the Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians, and 
Swedes are generally of what we call a swarthy complexion; as are 
the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted, who with the English 
make the principal body of white people on the face of the earth. 
I could wish their numbers were increased. And while we are, as 
I may call it, scouring our planet by clearing America of woods and 
so making this side of our globe reflect a brighter light to the eyes 
of inhabitants in Mars or Venus, why should we in the sight of 
superior beings darken its people? Why increase the sons of Africa 
by planting them in America, where we have so fair an oppor- 
tunity, by excluding all blacks and tawnys, of increasing the lovely 
red and white? But perhaps I am partial to the complexion of my 
country, for such kind of partiality is natural to mankind.”® (It 
should be noted that Franklin in 1755 was a trustee, with some 
of the most eminent citizens of Pennsylvania, of a charitable 
scheme to provide relief and instruction for poor German settlers.) 

In any case, the English colonies must know where the boundary 
lay between them and the French. Both nations assumed that the 
English had a right to the Atlantic seaboard east of the Alleghenies, 
and the French to Canada and Louisiana. But the domain of the 

CHAPTERS Conjiidi with the French 219 

Six Nations, reaching vaguely from the mountains to the Missis- 
sippi? had no boundaries, and upon it French and English alike 
steadily encroached, trading with the Indians for furs. The Eng- 
lish, perhaps more numerous, went as individuals, little controlled 
by their governments. The French, with their official expedition to 
the Ohio to build forts in 1753, seemed to challenge the English 
as well as the Six Nations, Virginia was first to act on the appeal the 
Indian chiefs brought to Winchester. Governor Dinwiddie sent 
George Washington, then twenty-one, with an ultimatum to the 
French commandant in November, the month after Franklin met 
the Indians at Carlisle. Washington was no more successful with 
the French than the Half King had been, and the Indians at the 
council fire at Logstown, seeing that the French in the Ohio region 
were stronger than the English, were wary about pledges to their 
old allies. Dinwiddie dispatched a few men to build an English 
fort at the forks of the Ohio, and commissioned Washington to go 
with reinforcements as soon as the Virginia militia could be ready. 
Word was sent to Governor Hamilton that the Pennsylvania forces 
might join the Virginians on the Potomac early in March 1754. 

The Pennsylvania Assembly, meeting in February 1754? would 
not be hurried. As they understood the letter of instruction to the 
governor which had come from the British secretary of state, they 
were asked to defend the colony from invasion by the subjects of 
any foreign power, but were to make use of armed force only 
within English territory. They thought it important to find out 
whether the French forts were within it. For the present, the 
Assembly chose not to join too quickly with Virginia in what 
might turn out to be aggressive action. They believed that Penn- 
sylvania must take some blame for its conduct in the Indian trade, 
“carried on (some few excepted) by the vilest of our own inhab- 
itants and convicts imported by Great Britain and Ireland.'’^ As 
matters stood, the Assembly refused to vote money “for the king’s 
use” — as the Quakers put it — ^till after word had come in May that 
the Virginia fort was in the hands of the French. Then, though 
£10,000 was voted, there was a conflict between the Assembly and 
the governor as to the terms on which it was to be raised. The 
governor said he was bound by the will of Parliament; the Assem- 
bly believed he was bound by the supposed interest of the pro- 

220 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

prietors. Claiming the sole right to decide on the amounts and 
terms o£ money bills, the Assembly adjourned without action. But 
they agreed with the governor that commissioners should be sent 
to Albany to join with commissioners from other colonies in a new 
treaty with the Six Nations. John Penn, a grandson of William 
Penn, and Richard Peters were chosen from the council, Isaac 
Norris and Franklin from the Assembly. Their commissions were 
dated 30 May, and on 17 June they arrived in Albany, where they 
lodged in the house of James Stevenson. 

The conference had been called by the Board of Trade. Presents 
Were to be given to the Six Nations from the king, and Governor 
De Lancey of New York was to be in charge of the ceremony of 
'‘burying the hatchet and renewing the covenant chain.’' Since 
other colonies were concerned. New Hampshire, Massachusetts, 
New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia had been asked 
to take part in the treaty. Virginia was too much occupied, and 
New Jersey neglected the invitation. Rhode Island and Connecti- 
cut had chosen commissioners without being invited. In the six 
months since the summons had been received in America, there 
had been time to think of the possibility of a union of the colonies 
for security and defence. Nobody had thought more about it than 
Benjamin Franklin. In his Gazette of 9 May he published — and 
had probably drawn — ^what appears to be the first American car- 
toon. It was a rough picture of a joint snake in eight pieces, marked 
with the initials of New England, New York, New Jersey, Penn- 
sylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, 
and with the caption; Die.” 

In New York on the way to Albany Franklin talked with Ken- 
nedy and with James Alexander, member of the New York Council 
and of the American Philosophical Society, and wrote out for him 
and for Cadwallader Colden, to whom Alexander was to send it^ 
the Short Hints towards a Scheme for Uniting the Northern 
Colonies,^ Since 1751 Franklin had made few changes in his first 
scheme. The union was to be planned by the commissioners at 
Albany as representatives of their various assemblies, and estab- 
lished, not imposed, by act of Parliament. The governor-general 
was to be a military man and have his salary as well as his appoint- 
ment from the Crown. Besides Indian affairs, Franklin now 

CHAPTERS TTie Albany Congress 9 . 9,1 

thought, the making and supporting of new settlements and the 
equipping of vessels to protect the coast might be in the hands of 
the union. But he seems not to have gone into minute detail, and 
he went to Albany with only the large outlines of his scheme in 

The conference was to have begun on 14 June. Some of the dele- 
gates were unavoidably late, and the Mohawks led by Hendrick 
(Tiyanoga) were deliberately so. On the 19th the commissioners 
met at the state house: five from New York including the governor, 
five from Massachusetts, four from New Hampshire, three from 
Connecticut, two from Rhode Island, two from Maryland, and the 
four from Pennsylvania. The members of the New York council 
met with them. The first day a committee was chosen to draft the 
speech which the governor was to make to the Indians. It was not 
finally agreed upon till the 27th, and not delivered till two days 
later. In the meantime the commissioners had other business. On 
the third day of the session they had a dispute over precedence 
among them, and decided that in their transactions the colonies 
should be named in their geographical order from north to south. 
On the 24th, while the governor was considering the speech that 
had been drawn up for him, the commissioners resolved that some 
kind of colonial union was necessary, and assigned a committee: 
Theodore Atkinson from New Hampshire, Thomas Hutchinson 
from Massachusetts, Stephen Hopkins from Rhode Island, William 
Pitkin from Connecticut, William Smith from New York, Benja- 
min Franklin from Pennsylvania, and Benjamin Tasker from 
Maryland. On the 28th the committee brought in what it called 
‘'short hints” for a plan, and copies were made by other commis- 
sioners. The next day the whole Congress adjourned to hear the 
governor’s speech. 

He offered the familiar condolences and ceremonial wampum, 
and particularly urged the Six Nations not to let themselves be 
dispersed and weakened but to “collect yourselves together and 
dwell in your national castles,” The honours of the occasion went 
to the Mohawk sachem Hendrick, answering with bitter candour. 
“You have asked us the reason of our living in this dispersed 
manner. The reason is your neglecting us for these three years 
past.” Here he took a stick and threw it over his head. “You have 

Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

thus thrown us behind your backs and disregarded us; whereas 
the French are a subtile and vigilant people, ever using their 
utmost endeavours to seduce and bring our people over to them/’ 
The Six Nations, he said, had not sold their land to the French or 
given them leave to invade it. *‘The governor of Virginia and the 
governor of Canada are both quarrelling about lands they think 
belong to us; and such a quarrel as this may end in our destruction. 
They fight who shall have the land.” Virginia and Pennsylvania 
also had invaded the territory of the Six Nations. Yet toward the 
French the English were slack and craven. ‘Took about your 
country and see. You have no fortifications about you. . . . ’Tis 
but a step from Canada hither, and the French may easily come 
and turn you out of doors. Brethren, you desired us to speak from 
the bottom of our hearts, and we shall do it. . . . Look at the 
French; they are men; they are fortifying everywhere. But, we are 
ashamed to say it, you are all like women, bare and open, without 
any fortifications.”® 

There were other speeches back and forth between the governor 
and the assembled Indians. John Penn for the Pennsylvania pro- 
prietors and Richard Peters for the council made a separate treaty, 
at their own lodgings, with the Six Nations. For a thousand pieces 
of eight paid down, and the promise of another thousand when the 
xand should be settled, they bought a great tract west of the moun- 
tains which, not too accurately described, was meant to extend 
Pennsylvania to Lake Erie and the Ohio. The commissioners at large 
were displeased with the entertainment which the Pennsylvanians 
gave the Indians at the state house.^® The general treaty was much 
the same as all the treaties before it. Though the Six Nations 
renewed their covenant with the English, nothing was decided 
between the colonists and the doomed aborigines, who were merely 
given presents to keep them peaceful in the face of extinction. 
While speeches were being made at Albany, Washington sur- 
rendered to the French at Fort Necessity, and the struggle of the 
English with the French for North America began. 

Side by side with the treaty went on daily debates about the 
scheme of union. Such plans had been thought of before this, and 
Franklin was not the only commissioner who had brought one 
ydth him. But his was preferred, with some changes which he 


The Albany Plan RejeBed 223 

accepted, against his judgment, in order to carry his main point. 
On 9 July he was asked to prepare a draft of the Plan “as now 
concluded upon.” That afternoon he was absent from the Con- 
gress, writing, but the next day his draft was read, adopted, and 
ordered transmitted to the assemblies, not only of the colonies 
represented by commissioners but also of New Jersey, Virginia, and 
the Carolinas. 

Not one of them approved, because none of them, in the current 
state of colonial jealousy and separatism, was willing to yield so 
much power to a general council. Even the Pennsylvania Assem- 
bly, which managed to take it up when Franklin was not present, 
paid no attention to the Plan.^^ Without the agreement of the 
colonies, the matter never came before the royal government, 
which probably would not have approved it either. “The assem- 
blies,” Franklin wrote long afterward with some dramatic exag- 
geration, “did not adopt it, as they all thought there was too much 
prerogative in it; and in England it was judged to have too much 
of the democratic. . . . The different and contrary reasons of 
dislike to my plan makes me suspect that it was really the true 
medium; and I am still of opinion that it would have been happy 
for both sides of the water if it had been adopted. The colonies, so 
united, would have been sufficiently strong to have defended them- 
selves; there would have been no need of troops from England; of 
course, the subsequent pretence for taxing America and the bloody 
contest it occasioned would have been avoided. But such mistakes 
are not new^; history is full of the errors of states and princes. . , . 
Those who govern, having much business on their hands, do not 
generally like to take the trouble of considering and carrying into 
execution new projects. The best public measures are therefore 
seldom adopted from previous wisdom, but are forced by the occa- 

Whatever Franklin's disappointment, he had made valuable 
friendships with influential men from other colonies, and had been 
first among them in a statesman-like design. Talking with them, 
thinking always of the colonies as a whole, he formed during 1754 
his mature conception of the British Empire and its American col- 
onies. They were to be one country with nothing but an ocean 
between them. The colonial territory, he thought, should be em 

224 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

larged and consolidated. Soon after the Albany Congress he drew 
up a Plan for Settling Two Western Colonies in North America}'^ 
If the English were to increase, they must have room and sub- 
sistence, which were both to be found beyond the mountains. Let 
the French establish themselves there, and they would be a per- 
petual danger: ''set the Indians on to harass our frontiers, kill and 
scalp our people, and drive in the advanced settlers”; and so, by 
cutting down subsistence for the English, "discourage our mar- 
riages and keep our people from increasing; thus (if the expression 
may be allowed) killing thousands of our children before they are 
born.” The English must move into the disputed territory to pro- 
tect what they already had. "A single old colony does not seem 
strong enough to extend itself otherwise than inch by inch.” The 
two barrier colonies that Franklin planned would have to be 
settled by the older colonies acting in concert, as under the Albany 
scheme, or else by charter from England. One of them would have 
a port on Lake Erie, the other would lie along the lower Scioto: 
"there being for forty miles on each side of it, and quite up to its 
heads, a body of all rich land; the finest spot of its bigness in all 
North America, and has the particular advantage of sea coal in 
plenty (even above ground in tw^o places) for fuel, when the w^oods 
are gone.” There would be trade with the Indians, whose land 
would be bought from them, and shipping on the lakes, and peace 
and population and prosperity — ^all still within the British Empire. 

But Americans must have a principal hand in governing them- 
selves. Franklin, in New York and New England from September 
to the following January, talked at Boston during December with 
William Shirley, governor of Massachusetts, who had his own plan 
of union. Under it the colonial assemblies would have little power, 
and the money for defence would come from taxes laid on the 
colonies by Parliament. The objections which Franklin raised he 
wrote out in three letters to the governor^^ which, twenty years 
before the Revolution, had in them the essence of the whole Revo- 
lutionary argument. 

"Excluding the people of the colonies from all share in the 
choice of the grand council would probably give extreme dissatis- 
faction, as well as taxing them by act of Parliament, where they 
hav^e no representative. In matters of general concern to the peo- 

ghapter 8 Americans and the Empire 9.9,6 

pie, and especially where burdens are to be laid upon them, it is of 
use to consider what they will be apt to think anc say as well as 
what they ought to think.” The colonists were loyal subjects of the 
king, Franklin believed, and willing to vote money for defence, but 
they thought they were better judges of how much they needed 
and could afford than "'the Parliament of England at so great a 
distance.” Parliament might be misinformed by the colonial gov- 
ernors and their councils, whom the colonists by no means ahvays 
trusted. As to taxes, “it is supposed an undoubted right of English- 
men not to be taxed but by their own consent given through their 
representatives.” So long as the colonies were not represented in 
Parliament, compelling them to pay money without their consent 
“would be rather like raising contributions in an enemy's country 
than taxing of Englishmen for their own public benefit.” But 
Americans were not foreigners. “The British colonies bordering 
on the French are properly frontiers of the British Empire; and 
the frontiers of an empire are properly defended at the joint ex- 
pense of the body of the people.” Americans already paid many and 
heavy indirect taxes to Britain. The British acts restraining Amer- 
ican trade with other countries and forbidding colonial manufac- 
tures kept prices high, for the benefit of British merchants, manu- 
facturers, and people, who thus in eflEect paid their own taxes out 
of American pockets. “These kind of secondary taxes, however, 
we do not complain of, though we have no share in the laying or 
disposing of them; but to pay immediate heavy taxes, in the laying, 
appropriation, and disposition of which we have no part, and 
which perhaps we may know to be as unnecessary as grievous, 
must seem hard measure to Englishmen who cannot conceive that, 
by hazarding their lives and fortunes in subduing and settling new 
countries, extending the dominion and increasing the commerce 
of the mother nation, they have forfeited the native rights of 

Even if the colonies were not allowed many representatives in 
Parliament, Franklin hoped there would be enough of them “to 
occasion those laws to be better and more impartially considered, 
and perhaps to overcome the interests of a petty corporation or of 
any particular set of artificers or traders in England” — ^like the 
iron-masters — “who heretofore seem, in some instances, to have 

226 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

been more regarded than all the colonies. ... I should hope, too, 
that by such a union the people of Great Britain and the people 
of the colonies would learn to consider themselves as not belonging 
to a different community with different interests, but to one com- 
munity with one interest; which I imagine would contribute to 
strengthen the whole and greatly lessen the danger of future 

With one of his simple, powerful illustrations Franklin summed 
up his argument for the unity of the Empire and the natural rights 
of the Americans. “Could the Goodwin Sands be laid dry by banks, 
and land equal to a large country thereby gained to England and 
presently filled with English inhabitants, would it be right to 
deprive such inhabitants of the common privileges enjoyed by 
other Englishmen: the right of vending their produce in the same 
ports, or of making their own shoes, because a merchant or shoe- 
maker living on the old land might fancy it more to his advantage 
to trade or make shoes for them? Would this be right, even if the 
land were gained at the expense of the state? And would it not 
seem less right, if the charge and labour of gaining the additional 
territory to Britain had been borne by the settlers themselves? 
And would not the hardship appear yet greater if the people of the 
new country should be allowed no representatives in the Parlia- 
ment enacting such impositions? 

“Now I look on the colonies as so many counties gained to Great 
Britain, and more advantageous to it than if they had been gained 
out of the seas around its coasts and joined to its land. For, being 
in different climates, they afford greater variety of produce; and, 
being separated by the ocean, they increase much more its ship- 
ping and seamen. And since they are all included in the British 
Empire, which has only extended itself by their means; and the 
strength and wealth of the parts are the strength and wealth of 
the whole; what imports it to the general state whether a merchant, 
a smith, or a hatter grow rich in Old or New England? And if, 
through increase of people, two smiths are wanted for one em- 
ployed before, why may not the new smith be allowed to live and 
thrive in the new country as well as the old one in the old? In fine, 
why should the countenance of a state be partially afforded to its 
people, unless it be most in favour of those who have most merit? 



Protedting the Province 

And if there be any difference, those who have most contributed to 
enlarge Britain’s empire and commerce, increase her strength, her 
wealth, and the numbers of her people, at the risk of their own 
lives and private fortunes in new and strange countries, methinks 
ought rather to expect some preference/' 


From these large, clear speculations in Boston Franklin returned 
in January or early February 1755 to the angry politics of Phila- 
delphia. Hamilton had been succeeded by Robert Hunter Morris, 
but the conflict between governor and Assembly remained the 
same. Morris, like Hamilton, was under bond to veto any legisla- 
tion that might threaten the interests of the proprietors. When 
the Assembly voted £20,000 for the king’s use in the war with the 
French and Indians, to be raised by striking paper money redeem- 
able in ten years out of the excise, the governor amended the 
period to five years, in deference to a Parliamentary act which 
applied to New England but not to Pennsylvania. The proprietors 
thought it to their interest, the Assembly supposed, to stand well 
with the royal government from which they held their grant of 
the province, and to maintain the province’s credit. But the Assem- 
bly saw nothing illegal in their money bill, and they believed they 
were better judges of their credit than the governor was. They 
alone, under their constitution, had the authority to say what 
money should be voted for public use. The governor, trying to 
amend the bill, was encroaching upon one of their most cherished 
rights. No matter what the emergency, they refused to surrender 
to him. Their constitution was not less important to them than 
their soil. If they were to protect the province they must keep it 
worth protecting. It was as much their duty to defend their liber- 
ties as to resist the French. Stubborn messages went back and 
forth, those from the Assembly written by Franklin. 

Meanwhile the war got under way, after the British and French 
had each decided that the other had begun it. The British planned 
expeditions from New York and New England against Niagara. 
Crown Point- and Acadia, and in December 1754 shipped two 

<££8 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

tegiments of British regulars to Virginia, to march beyond the 
mountains and recapture the stronghold at the forks of the Ohio 
which the French now called Fort Duquesne. The regulars landed 
in February at Hampton. The general in command, Edward Brad- 
dock of the Coldstream Guards, conferred at Alexandria in April 
with the governors of Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, 
Maryland, and Virginia. This was as near to union as the colonies 
ever came before the Revolution, though the conference had little 
in common with the Albany Plan. The burden of supplying and 
transporting Braddock’s army fell particularly on Virginia, Mary- 
land, and Pennsylvania. The pacifist Quakers voted — or allowed to 
be voted — ^as much money for the king’s use as the warlike Vir- 
ginians. Since Governor Morris still objected to the Assembly’s 
terms, they borrowed not only £5000 for Braddock but also 
£10,000 for the northern expeditions. (Josiah Quincy came from 
Boston to arrange for the money to be used in the north, and he 
owed his success, he thought, to Franklin, once a Bostonian.) And 
while Virginia furnished Braddock the most promising young sol- 
dier in America, Pennsylvania furnished America’s most far- 
sighted statesman, most eminent scientist, most gifted writer — to 
find wagons for the march. 

Ostensibly Franklin went as Postmaster-General, to arrange with 
Braddock the best method of communicating with the governors 
with whom he would constantly have to deal. This special postal 
service was to be paid for by the Pennsylvania Assembly, which 
had heard that Braddock had a violent prejudice against Quakers 
on account of their principles; it turned out that he was sure the 
Pennsylvanians were selling provisions to the French. Since Brad- 
dock was commander-in-chief of all the forces raised or to be raised 
in America, Pennsylvania could not prudently risk his disfavour. 

“My son accompanied me on this journey. We found the general 
at Frederictown [Frederick, Maryland], waiting impatiently for 
the return of those he had sent through the back parts of Maryland 
and Virginia to collect wagons. I stayed with him several days, 
dined with him daily, and had full opportunity of removing all 
his prejudices, by the information of what the Assembly had before 
his arrival actually done, and were still willing to do, to facilitate 
his operations/* But Franklin, though he might remove Brad- 


General Braddock 


dock's prejudices against Pennsylvania, could not touch his deeper 
bias as a professional British soldier of a rigid school. “In conversa- 
tion with him one day, he was giving me some account of his 
intended progress. ‘After taking Fort Duquesne,' says he, ‘I am to 
proceed to Niagara; and, having taken that, to Frontenac, if the 
season will allow time; and I suppose it will, for Duquesne can 
hardly detain me above three or four days; and then I see nothing 
that can obstruct my march to Niagara.' Having before revolved 
in my mind the long line his army must make in their march by a 
very narrow road, to be cut for them through the woods and 
bushes, and also what I had read of a former defeat of fifteen hun- 
dred French who invaded the Iroquois country, I had conceived 
some doubts and some fears for the event of the campaign. But I 
ventured only to say: ‘To be sure, sir, if you arrive well before 
Duquesne, with these fine troops, so well provided with artillery, 
that place, not yet completely fortified and as we hear with no 
very strong garrison, can probably make but a short resistance. 
The only danger I apprehend of obstruction to your march is from 
ambuscades of Indians, who, by constant practice, are dexterous in 
laying and executing them; and the slender line, near four miles 
long, which your army must make, may expose it to be attacked 
by surprise in its flanks, and to be cut like a thread into several 
pieces, which, from their distance, cannot come up in time to 
support each other.' He smiled at my ignorance and replied: ‘These 
savages may, indeed, be a formidable enemy to your raw American 
militia, but upon the king's regular and disciplined troops, sir, it 
is impossible they should make any impression.* I was conscious 
of an impropriety in my disputing with a military man in matters 
of his profession, and said no more."^® 

In civil matters Franklin was at home. When Braddock could 
get together only 25 transport wagons in Maryland, Franklin 
thought he might do better in Pennsylvania. W'ith instructions 
and money he went to Lancaster, and he and his son within two 
weeks had assembled, in Lancaster, York, and Cumberland Coun- 
ties, 150 wagons with four horses each and 259 pack horses, and 
had sent them off to the rendezvous at Will's Creek. In addition 
to the eight hundred pounds Franklin had been furnished with, 
he advanced two hundred more. “The advertisement promised 

£30 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

payment according to the valuation, in case any wagon or horse 
should be lost. The otvners, however, alleging they did not know 
General Braddock or what dependence might be had on his prom-* 
ise, insisted on my bond for the performance, which I accordingly 
gave them.”^^ The commander-in-chief of all the British forces in 
America had less credit with the colonists than their own post- 
master. Franklin took up also the case of the subalterns, who ‘‘were 
generally not in affluence, and could ill afford, in this dear country, 
to lay in the stores that might be necessary in so long a march, 
through a wilderness, where nothing was to be purchased/’^^ 
William Franklin, who had been a subaltern himself, made a list 
of “necessaries and refreshments,’’ and his father sent it off to a 
committee of the Assembly that had some money on hand. The 
committee made a present to every officer, with a horse to carry it, 
of a parcel containing six pounds each of rice, raisins, chocolate, 
coffee, loaf sugar, and “good Muscovada” sugar; one pound each 
of green and bohea tea; a half-pound of pepper, a half-dozen dried 
tongues, and a half-hundredweight of the best white biscuit; one 
Gloucester cheese; two well-cured hams; twenty pounds of good 
butter; one bottle of flour of mustard and one quart of white wine 
vinegar; two gallons of Jamaica spirits; and two dozen of old 
Madeira wine. Braddock was so much pleased by Franklin’s activ- 
ities that he engaged his further services in sending supplies after 
the army on its march. Franklin advanced more than a thousand 
pounds of his own money. 

Braddock marched away into die fateful forest, cutting what was 
later to be famous as the National Road* Franklin in Philadelphia 
had during June a few days of leisure. He sent off to CoUinson the 
“philosophical packet” which he had made up in November 1753 
but had been too busy to send before this. John Bartram had 
brought Franklin a box which was to go to CoUinson, and Franklin 
would fill the “little vacancy” in it: a few sheets of asbestos paper, 
some candles which “give a whiter flame than that of any other 
kind of candle,” “a few cakes of American soap made of myrde 
wax, said to be the best soap in the world for shaving or washing 
fine linens”; the notes he had made last winter describing a wood- 
chuck, when “one of them was killed in the garden of an old inn I 
put up at” in New England. No countryman, he had not known 

ghaftek S Domeitzc Items 231 

what it was, but Bartram recognized it from the description as a 
ground hog. Franklin had broken his thermometer and had in- 
vented a way to mend it, not very successfully. Here were ten copies 
of the pamphlet on the Pennsylvanian fireplaces. Some day he 
would muster up a full account of the Philadelphia voyages in 
search of the Northwest Passage. He included a letter for D’Alibard, 
in Paris, on electrical matters, reporting at length the effects of a 
stroke of lightning on a church at Newbury in New England, He 
ran through all the questions that Collinson had xvritten him in 
letters so far unanswered, and he requested that Collinson '‘would 
send my wife satin sufficient for a gown, somewhat darker than the 
enclosed pattern.”^^ 

That June Franklin had a new clerk whose diary throws a little 
light on the private life of the Franklins, Daniel Fisher, a needy 
Englishman, had come from Williamsburg in May looking for 
work. Unable to find any, he wrote a note to Franklin on 4 June 
and promptly got an answer asking him to tea the same day. Frank- 
lin engaged him and sent him to lodge in the house of a neighbour. 
The next afternoon Fisher, coming down from his room, found 
Deborah Franklin sitting at the foot of the neighbour’s stairway, 
loudly complaining that “all the world claimed a privilege of 
troubling her Pappy (so she usually calls Mr. Franklin) with their 
calamities and distresses.” Afterwards, when Fisher knew her bet- 
ter, he discovered that she was jealous of William, whom she 
thought his father preferred to her and Sally, though Fisher could 
see no signs of this. “I have often,” Fisher noted, “seen [William] 
pass to and from his father’s apartment upon business (for he does 
not eat, drink, or sleep in the house) without the least compliment 
between Mrs. Franklin and him or any sort of notice taken of each 
other, till one day, as I was sitting with her in the passage when 
the young gentleman came by, she exclaimed to me (he not hear- 
ing): 'Mr. Fisher, there goes the greatest villain upon earth!’ This 
greatly confounded and perplexed me, but did not hinder her 
from pursuing her invectives in the foulest terms I ever heard from 
a gentlewoman.”^^ (Here is evidence which more than any other 
makes it hard to believe that William was secretly Deborah’s own 
son.) Fisher while he was Franklin’s clerk made copies of the 
Observations concerning the Increase of Mankind, first published 

£32 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

that year in Boston, and of a long and grateful letter from Brad- 
dock to Franklin. On 24 June the Freemasons, who had hitherto 
met in taverns, dedicated their own building with high ceremony. 
At the banquet the toast to the success of Braddock was the thir- 

In the letter to Collinson of 26 June Franklin wrote that he was 
sick of politics. “I like neither the governor’s conduct nor the 
Assembly’s; and, having some share in the confidence of both, I 
have endeavoured to reconcile ’em, but in vain; and between ’em 
they make me very uneasy. ... If my being able now and then to 
influence a good measure did not keep up my spirits, I should be 
ready to swear never to serve again as assemblyman, since both sides 
expect more from me than they ought, and blame me sometimes 
for not doing what I am not able to do, as well as for not preventing 
what was not in my power to prevent.”^^ Indeed, he wrote on 27 
August: *‘I abhor these altercations, and if I did not love the coun- 
try and the people would remove immediately into a more quiet 
government, Connecticut, where I am also happy enough to have 
many friends.”^^ 

The consequences of Braddock’s defeat on 9 July, with the 
slaughter of over two-thirds of his officers and over half of his men, 
kept Franklin in Pennsylvania. At once he was more involved in 
politics than ever. The Assembly, voting £50,000 for defence, pro- 
posed to tax proprietors as well as people, and the conflict raised 
new angers. Franklin faced ruin till October, when Governor 
Shirley, who had succeeded Braddock as commander-in-chief, 
ordered payment for the horses and wagons for which Franklin 
was surety, in the amount of nearly £20,000. There was general 
terror in the province. The French, with no British to withstand 
them, might attack in force. The Indians, encouraged by the 
French victory, turned against the frontier English. Though the 
Six Nations officially kept faith, some of their warriors joined the 
French. The Delawares had been implacable ever since 1737, when 
Thomas Penn cheated them in the Walking Purchase. Now they 
took revenge. The western Indians resented the separate treaty 
made with the Pennsylvanians at Albany. They were as hostile as 
the Delawares. With no British army to defend it, Pennsylvania 

CHAPTER 8 J^ot Tet an Empire 233 

must have militia. Those citizens who demanded vigorous action 
abused the peaceful Quakers. 

Franklin could have seen in the tumult few evidences of the 
imperial unity he had imagined. For lack of a common plan among 
the colonies, the British government had sent an army that had 
proved worse than useless. Braddock had fought clansmen in the 
Highlands, but knew and would learn nothing about fighting 
Indians, and he offended the friendly Indians who joined him as 
scouts. Years of service in the Coldstream Guards had not taught 
Braddock how to deal with colonials. He too plainly showed them 
how much he despised what he thought their inefficiency and 
selfishness. Franklin’s help, he wrote to the secretary of state, was 
“almost the only instance of address and fidelity which I have seen 
in all these provinces.” And possibly Franklin’s help had been a 
handicap. Washington, Braddock’s aide, would not have burdened 
the march with so many wagons or so many horses carrying “neces- 
saries and refreshments” for the subalterns. If Braddock had taken 
colonial advice, he need not have been surprised and defeated. But 
no Briton liked to take colonial advice in American affairs. Brad- 
dock was hardly more to blame than the government which had 
sent him on a campaign so badly planned at home. Nor had the 
colonies been willing, after Albany, to sink their special interests 
in the general interest. If Britain did not understand her colonies, 
neither did they understand each other. The Empire was far from 
being one country yet. 


T he crowded, troubled year 1755 saw the beginning of 
Franklin’s affectionate friendship with Catherine Ray, the 
first of the younger women who from his fiftieth year to the end of 
his life delighted in his ageless charm and adored him. Since his 
marriage in 1730 Franklin had had, so far as is known, no close 
friendships among women. All his surviving letters written before 
1755 were to men except those to his mother and his sister Jane, 
and two to Susanna Wright, sister of John and James Wright, 
whom Franklin had visited at their house called Hempfield near 
Wright’s Ferry on the Susquehanna. Business, study, science, pub- 
lic welfare, politics, and masculine friendships had apparently ab- 
sorbed him. But in Rhode Island in January 1755, on his way back 
from Boston, he met Catherine Ray. 

The letters between them, the only records of their friendship, 
do not make clear the circumstances of their meeting. She was then 
twenty-three, daughter of Simon Ray of Block Island, and through 
her mother, Deborah Greene, related to the Greenes of Warwick, 
one of the most notable families in the province. Her sister Judith 
was married to Thomas Hubbard of Boston, where Franklin must 
have known her. Another sister, Anne, was married to Samuel 
Ward of Westerly, on the Pawcatuck River between Rhode Island 
and Connecticut. Franklin, taking his time to visit as he went, 
may have met Catherine Ray in Newport, among the many Wards 
who lived there, or in Westerly at Anne Ward’s. Somewhere he 
took a longish journey with Catherine; somewhere he watched 
her making sugar plums and said her hands were sweet; somewhere 
he talked to her of favours which she refused him, though she was 
rather pleased than vexed by his boldness. They parted on the 
shore of Block Island sound, she to cross the water to her home, he 


Indiscreet Letters 


to return to Westerly. He was a conjurer, she said. He left her 
under a spell, and he was hardly gone when she wrote after him, 
on 20 January. 

This letter, and the three that followed it, are all missing from 
Franklin’s careful files. She later thought them indiscreet, and he 
may have thought so too. When, on 4 March, he first wrote to her, 
he put a prudent if tender distance between them. ‘It gives me 
great pleasure,” he said, “to hear that you got home safe and well 
that day, I thought too much was hazarded, when I saw you put off 
to sea in that very little skiff, tossed by every wave. But the call was 
snong and just, a sick parent. I stood on the shore and looked after 
you till I could no longer distinguish you, even with my glass; then 
returned to your sister’s, praying for your safe passage. Towards 
evening all agreed that you must certainly be arrived before that 
time, the weather having been so favourable; which made me more 
easy and cheerful, for I had been truly concerned for you. 

“I left New England slowly, and with great reluctance. Short 
day’s journeys and loitering visits on the road, for three or four 
weeks, manifested my unwillingness to quit a country in which I 
drew my first breath, spent my earliest and most pleasant days, and 
had now received so many fresh marks of the people’s goodness 
and benevolence, in the kind and affectionate treatment I had 
everywhere met with. I almost forgot I had a home, till I was more 
than half-way towards it; till I had, one by one, parted with all my 
New England friends and was got into the western borders of 
Connecticut, among mere strangers. Then, like an old man who, 
having buried all he loved in this world, begins to think of heaven^ 
I began to think of and wish for home; and, as I drew nearer, I 
found the attraction stronger and stronger. My diligence and speed 
increased with my impatience. I drove on violently and made such 
long stretches that a very few days brought me to my own house 
and to the arms of my good old wife and children, where I remain, 
thanks to God, at present well and happy. 

“Persons subject to the hyp complain of the north-east wind as 
increasing their malady. But since you promised to send me kisses 
in that wind, and I find you”— in her first letter? — “as good 
your word, it is to me the gayest wind that blows and gives me the 
best spirits. I write this during a north-east storm of snow, the^ 


SS6 Benjamin i:^ranklin 

greatest we have had this winter. Your favours come mixed with 
the snowy fleeces, which are as pure as your virgin innocence, white 
as your lovely bosom — ^and as cold. But let it warm towards some 
worthy young man, and may heaven bless you both with every 
kind of happiness. 

‘1 desired Miss Anna Ward to send you over a little book I left 
with her, for your amusement in that lonely island. My respects to 
your good father and mother and sister. Let me hear often of your 
welfare, since it is not likely I shall ever again have the pleasure of 
seeing you. Accept mine and my wife’s sincere thanks for the many 
civilities I receive from you and your relations; and do me the 
justice to believe me, dear girl, your affectionate, faithful friend 
and humble servant.”^ 

The day before he wrote, Catherine had written a second letter. 
It and the two after it, at four-week intervals, reached him when 
he was deep in the Braddock business, and he did not answer. On 
28 June she wrote, in distress and anxiety, her fifth letter, which is 
the earliest that survives from her and has hitherto not been pub* 
lished: “Dear, dear Sir: Excuse my writing when I tell you it is the 
great regard I have for you will not let me be silent, for absence 
rather increases than lessens my affection. Then, my not receiving 
one line from you in answer to three of my last letters — March the 
3d and 31st and April the 28th — ogives me a vast deal of uneasiness 
and occasioned many tears, for surely I have wrote too much and 
you are affronted with me, or have not received my letters, in 
which I have said a thousand things that nothing should have 
tempted me to [have] said to anybody else, for I knew they would 
be safe with you. Til only beg the favour of one line [illegible'] 
what is become of my letters. Tell me you are well and forgive and 
love me one-thousandth part so well as I do you, and then I will be 
contented and promise an amendment. It is with the greatest 
reluctance I shall finish my letter without telling you of some great 
alterations since my last. But you have my promise, so I will pray 
God to bless you with the best of blessings, and subscribe myself, 
dear sir, your most sincere, affectionate, and obliged friend.” Then 
she added: “My proper respects to Mrs. Franklin and daughter.” 
And again she added, in the margin: “Pray take care of yout 

CHAPTER 9 A Friendly Answer %S1 

health and accept the sugar plums. They are every one sweetened 
as you used to like/'^ 

Her uneasy question did not reach Franklin for three months, 
and he let the whole summer pass, what with Braddock's defeat 
and the uproar in Pennsylvania, before he answered the three let- 
ters in which she was afraid she had said too much. Then on 1 1 
September, while the Assembly was adjourned, he began his second 
and longest letter to her: “Begone, business, for an hour, and let 
me chat a little with my Katy.’’ He explained that her first letter 
had reached him just before he set out on a long journey, and the 
others while he was away, and that since then a “perpetual hurry 
of public aiBFairs” had forced him to neglect his “private cor- 
respondences, even those that afforded me the greatest pleasure.*' 
If he had thought her letters indiscreet, he showed no signs of it, 
only teasing her about her confidences, which he seemed to take 
for granted. 

“You ask in your last, how I do and what I am doing, and 
whether everybody loves me yet and why I make them do so. 

“In regard to the first, I can say, thanks to God, that I do not 
remember I was ever better. I still relish all the pleasures of life 
that a temperate man can in reason desire, and through favour I 
have them all in my power. ... As to the second question, I must 
confess (but don’t you be jealous) that many more people love me 
now than ever did before; for since I saw you I have been enabled 
to do some general services to the country and to the army for 
which both have thanked and praised me, and say they love me. 
They say so as you used to do; and if I were to ask any favours of 
them, they would perhaps as readily refuse me; so that I find little 
real advantage in being beloved, but it pleases my humour. 

“Now it is four months since I have been favoured with a single 
line from you; but I will not be angry with you, because it is my 
fault. I ran in debt to you three or four letters; and as I did not pay, 
you would not trust me any more, and you had some reason. But 
believe me I am honest; and though I should never make equal 
returns, you shall see I will keep fair accounts. Equal returns I 
can never make, though I should write to you by every post; for 
the pleasure I receive from one of yours is more than you can have 

238 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

from two of mine. The small news, the domestic occurrences 
among our friends, the natural pictures you draw of persons, tht 
sensible observations and reflections you make, and the easy chatt} 
manner in which you express everything, all contribute to heighten 
the pleasure; and the more as they remind me of those hours and 
miles that we talked away so agreeably, even in a winter journey, a 
wrong road, and a soaking shower. 

“I long to hear whether you have continued ever since in that 
monastery [Block Island] or have broke into the world again, doing 
pretty mischief; how the lady Wards do, and how many of them 

are married, or about it; what is become of Mr. B and Mr. 

L , and what the state of your heart is at this instant. But that, 

perhaps, I ought not to know; and therefore I will not conjure, as 
you sometimes say I do* If I could conjure, it should be to know 
what was that oddest question about me that ever was thought of, 
w^hich you tell me a lady had just sent to ask you. 

'*1 commend your prudent resolutions in the article of granting 
favours to lovers. But if I were courting you I could not hardly 
approve such conduct. I should even be malicious enough to say 
you were too knowing, and tell you the old story of the Girl and 
the Miller. I enclose you the songs you write for, and with them 
your Spanish letter with a translation. I honour that honest Span- 
iard for loving you* It showed the goodness of his taste and judg- 
ment. But you must forget him, and bless some worthy young 

‘'You have spun a long thread, five thousand and twenty-two 
yards. It will reach almost from Rhode Island hither. I wish I had 
hold of one end of it, to pull you to me. But you would break it 
rather than come. The cords of love and friendship are longer and 
stronger, and in times past have drawn me farther; even back from 
England to Philadelphia. I guess that some of the same kind will 
one day draw you out of that island. 

"I was extremely pleased with the turf you sent me. The Irish 
people who have seen it say it is the right sort; but I cannot learn 
that we have anything like it here. The cheeses, particularly one 
of them, were excellent. All our friends have tasted it, and all 
agree that it exceeds any English cheese they ever tasted. Mrs. 
Franklin was very proud that a young lady should have so much 



A Lady and a Library 

regard for her old husband as to send him such a present. We talk 
of you every time it comes to table. She is sure you are a sensible 
girl, and a notable housewife, and talks of bequeathing me to you 
as a legacy; but I ought to wish you a better, and hope she will live 
these hundred years; for we are grown old together, and if she has 
any faults I am so used to ’em that I don’t perceive ’em. . . . In- 
deed, I begin to think she has none, as I think of you. And since 
she is willing I should love you as much as you are willing to be 
loved by me, let us join in wishing the old lady a long life and a 

He sent her his wife’s compliments, and his own to her parents, 
whom he did not know. And he too added a postscript: “Sally says: 
Tapa, my love to Miss Katy.’ If it was not quite unreasonable, I 
should desire you to write to me every post, whether you hear from 
me or not. As to your spelling, don’t let those laughing girls put 
you out of conceit with it. It is the best in the world, for every letter 
of it stands for something.”^ 

(That same day Franklin wrote to Thomas Hancock in Boston, 
proposing an annual subscription to buy books for the Harvard 
library. Franklin sent an order on his brother John for four pis- 
toles for the fund. “ ’Tis but a trifle compared with my hearty 
good will and respect to the college; but a small seed properly 
sown sometimes produces a large and fruitful tree.”^ The subscrip- 
tion was never started, and Franklin’s order, never cashed, is still 
in the Harvard College archives.) 

To Catherine Ray’s worried letter, when it finally got to Phila- 
delphia, Franklin sent a lively answer on i6 October, as if to 
reassure her. “Your favour of the 28th of June came to hand but 
the 28th of September, just three months after it was written. I 
had, tw^o weeks before, wrote you a long chat and sent it to the care 
of your brother Ward. I hear you are now in Boston, gay and 
lovely as usual. Let me give you some fatherly advice. Kill no more 
pigeons than you can eat. Be a good girl and don’t forget your 
catechism. Go constantly to meeting — or church — till you get a 
good husband; then stay at home, and nurse the children, and live 
like a Christian. Spend your spare hours in sober whisk [whist], 
prayers, or learning to cipher. You must practise addition to your 
husband’s estate, by industry and frugality; subtraction of all un- 

£40 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

necessary expenses; multiplication (I would gladly have taught 
you that myself, but you thought it was time enough, and wouldn't 
learn), he will soon make you a mistress of it. As to division, I say 
with Brother Paul, Xet there be no division among ye.' But as 
your good sister Hubbard (my love to her) is well acquainted with 
the rule of two, I hope you will become an expert in the rule of 
three; that when I have again the pleasure of seeing you, I may find 
you like my grapevine, surrounded with clusters, plump, juicy, 
blushing, pretty little rogues, like their mamma. Adieu. The bell 
rings [the Assembly was then in session], and I must go among the 
grave ones and talk politics. , . . P.S. The plums came safe, and 
were so sweet from the cause you mentioned that I could scarce 
taste the sugar."^ 

Franklin's side of the early friendship between him and Cath- 
erine Ray is clearer than hers, but hers is not too hard to guess at. 
Her sister Judith had been married at nineteen, her sister Anne 
at seventeen, her younger sister Phebe at twenty-one or sooner. 
Catherine at twenty-four (July 1755) was still at home on the 
lonely island. Franklin was the most interesting man she had ever 
met: the most interesting because the most interested. A famous 
scientist, an officer of the Crown, he gave her the same close atten- 
tion and imaginative understanding that he gave to electricity or 
business or politics. His frank attraction to her person went with 
an exciting admiration for her mind. Finding herself important 
in his experienced, humorous eyes, she felt important in her own, 
and naturally told him her small secrets, which he did not seem to 
think were small. Given more opportunity, she might easily have 
become a Vanessa to his Swift. But this was New England, this was 
Franklin. In answer to her impetuous lettei-s he wrote blandly 
from Philadelphia about his wife and daughter, doubted that he 
would ever see his charming friend again, and urged her to marry 
some suitable young man. 

The following summer she sent a short note to say that she 
expected to see Franklin soon in Boston and so would not write a 
long letter. know not when I shall enjoy that pleasure,” he said 
on 26 August about a Boston meeting, ‘'being more involved in 
public affairs than ever; so that I cannot be so long out of the 
province as such a journey requires; therefore, dear girl, write me 


Dear Selves 


all your little nexvs, for it is extremely entertaining to me.” He 
would not let it appear that he thought her in Boston on account 
of him. “Your apology for being in Boston, that you must visit that 
sister once a year, makes me suspect you are [tjhere for some other 
reason [some other man], for why should you think your being 
there would need an excuse to me, when you knoxv that I know 
hoxv dearly you loved that sister? Don’t offer to hide your heart 
from me. You knoxv I can conjure. Give my best respects to your 
sister, and tell her and all your other sisters and brothers that they 
must behave very kindly to you and love you dearly, or else I’ll 
send a young gentleman to steal and run away with you, who shall 
bring you to a country from whence they shall never hear a word 
from you, without paying postage.”® 

They did not meet again till July 1763, when she had been 
married since 1758 to William Greene and had borne two of her 
six children. Franklin, xvho had been in England for five of the 
intervening years, visited her and her husband at their farm in 
Warwick on the way to Boston. Sally Franklin was with her father, 
and would have liked to stay a week. After that the friends saw each 
other no more than twice, once in 1775 when Franklin went 
to Cambridge to confer with Washington, and again in 1776 when 
Catherine Greene visited Franklin in Philadelphia with her hus- 
band. Catherine’s affection embraced Franklin’s sister Jane, who 
when Boston was besieged by the British took refuge with the 
Greenes in Warwick. (Jane’s granddaughter married a brother of 
General Nathanael Greene, who was Catherine’s nephew.) Frank- 
lin’s affection embraced Catherine’s eldest son Ray Greene, who 
was sent in 1775 with Franklin from Warwick to Philadelphia to 
enter the Academy, where in the overwhelming year 1776 his 
mother’s friend looked after him as if he were a grandson. Though 
Franklin and Catherine Greene met so seldom, their devoted 
friendship never grew less, and they exchanged, from time to time 
for more than thirty years, letters which are as delightful as any in 
the language. Long lapses made no difference to them, nor the 
long distances between them. Her sister’s husband Samuel Ward 
was three times governor of the province, and after independence 
her own husband was for eight years governor of the state. But she 
seldom mentioned public affairs, any more than Franklin did. 

£42 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

They wrote about their families and casually about themselves — 
the two selves that had met and loved each other and needed 
nothing else to keep their affection perfectly alive. One of his let- 
ters, she said, ‘'gave me great pleasure, as it gave me fresh proof of 
your own dear self/’ She called him, in that formal age, “my dearly 
beloved friend,” sent him “as much love as you wish,” and signed 
herself “your friend that loves you dearly.” After many years she 
told him: “I impute great part of the happiness of my life to the 
pleasing lessons you gave me in that journey.”'^ Franklin at eighty- 
three wrote her: “Among the felicities of my life I reckon your 
friendship, which I shall remember with pleasure as long as that 
life lasts.”® 


T he frontier was close to Philadelphia in 1755, and seemed 
to come ominously closer. Raiding Indians from the Ohio 
slipped through the forests of the back counties less than a hum 
dred miles away. The frontier towns were little molested, for the 
Indians did not come in force. But during the years of peace 
many settlers, particularly German and Scotch-Irish, had taken up 
isolated farms. Whole families were killed and scalped, with no 
one to defend them or even to spread the news. Till the end of 
summer the raiders were cautious, not sure what plans the colony 
was making for defence. By fall they had become so bold and 
struck so often that the whole frontier was in a panic. Crowding 
in the towns, the refugees called for protection by the governmentc 
There was confusion in Philadelphia. The Quakers who domi- 
nated the Assembly were a minority of the whole people, and a 
growing majority angrily demanded that the matter of defence be 
taken out of the hands of pacifists. Others in the majority saw in 
the legislative deadlock only a tedious wrangling over negligible 
points of law. The Indians had crossed the mountains. Let the 
needed money be voted now and the principle agreed on later. 
The Assembly was blamed almost as much as the governor. If this 
was no time to delay, neither was it a time to keep up an obstinate 
animosity to the proprietors. They too had partisans in Philadel- 
phia. A good many conservatives stood with the proprietary gov- 
ernment because it was the government, and established, and Brit- 
ish. Others were under obligation to the proprietors, or looked 
for favours from them. William Smith, provost of the Academy, 
who hoped that the colonies might have a bishop and he a 
bishopric, attacked the Quakers — ^and incidentally Franklin, who 
liked the Quakers and respected their scruples without sharing 

244 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

them. Smith and the governor and Richard Peters all wrote to 
Thomas Penn about the misdeeds of Franklin, that crafty leader 
of the presumptuous Assembly. 

It is not entirely clear how far Franklin went with the Assembly 
in its stern principles. He seems to have tried to bring them and 
the governor to terms. Drafting the Assembly’s messages, he had 
to present the Assembly’s opinion, whether he had directed it or 
not. Leader or merely spokesman, he could not move much faster 
than the majority. But it was he who worked out the schemes 
which temporarily reconciled the antagonists in November. He 
drew up a militia bill which the Quakers would pass and the 
governor would sign. As to taxing the proprietary lands, he held 
as strongly as anybody that the proprietors should pay their share, 
since their property was being defended along with the rest. But 
when the proprietors offered to contribute £5000, as a gift not as 
a tax, he persuaded the Assembly to accept it as ofEered, only stipu- 
lating that they alone had the right to grant supplies to the Crown 
and to limit such grants “as to the matter, manner, measure, and 
time.” The Assembly voted £60,000 and the governor assented. 

On 25 November the Assembly passed the militia act^ and or- 
dered the money bill. The act, unmistakably in the language of 
Franklin, said that the people called Quakers, while they would 
not bear arms themselves nor compel others to do it, yet would 
not compel men of other principles not to bear arms. Therefore 
the Assembly made it lawful for the freemen of the province to 
form themselves into companies and elect their officers, subject to 
the approval of the governor or commander-in-chief; and for the 
officers of the companies to elect the officers of the regiments to 
which the companies should be assigned; and for the whole body 
of officers to establish articles of war and courts-martial which, 
when the enlisted men had voluntarily signed them, should be 
binding. Unlike the Association which Franklin had organized 
in 1747, this militia had a legal status, but it was still democratic. 
No matter what military men might think in general, Franklin 
was sure that colonial soldiers would serve best under officers they 
themselves had chosen. 

A committee of seven was appointed by the Assembly to manage 
the funds raised for defence. With Franklin as its head, the com- 


Franklin's Militia 


mittee sat every day of the week. There was immediate need oi 
action. News came that the night before the militia act was passed 
and the defence money voted, a war party of Shawnee had attacked 
the Moravian mission village of Gnadenhuetten, seventy-five miles 
north-west of Philadelphia, had killed all the people who could not 
escape into the forest, and had burned the buildings. Hundreds of 
German farmers and their families from Northampton and Berks 
Counties had already streamed into Philadelphia, to say they 
would no longer be a buffer to the English settled nearer the city. 
If the frontier were not protected, the Germans would leave it 
and quarter themselves on the inhabitants of a safer neighbour- 
hood. Governor Morris received two of the Germans and told them 
that the proprietors had given £5000 for defence. The whole dele- 
gation then marched to the Assembly, where Franklin spoke to 
them so reassuringly that they returned to their villages and farms. 

Whatever might be expected of Franklin’s militia, which the 
military men thought absurd, there was bound to be delay in 
organizing the democratic companies. Soldiers were needed at 
once, and the committee ordered that three hundred men be 
enlisted in the provincial forces, to serve with pay as rangers on 
the frontier or in the blockhouses which were to be built. Frank- 
lin wrote for the Gazette his skilful explanation of the militia 
scheme in the form of A Dialogue between X, F, and Z concerning 
the Present State of Affairs in Pennsylvania,^ This appeared 18 
December. The same day he set out with fifty provincial cavalry- 
men and three Conestoga wagons for Bethlehem, the chief town 
of the Moravians. With him were James Hamilton, formerly gov- 
ernor and still a member of the Council, and Joseph Fox, the 
Quaker chairman of the Assembly’s committee of accounts. By 
rank Hamilton was leader of the expedition, and he went partly 
to keep an eye on Franklin and report to the governor. But after 
a week or so of deference to the man of rank, the man of genius 
was in charge, with his son as his aide. More or less sedentary by 
habit, fifty, and fat, Franklin seems to have taken as naturally to 
this rough campaigning as to prose or business or science or poli- 
tics. Though he had no military title, the Moravians called him 
General Franklin. 

The line of defence ran from Easton on the Delaware south-west 

£46 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

through Bethlehem on the Lehigh to Reading on the Schuylkill. 
Behind them lay the protecting range of the Blue mountains, cut 
between the Schuylkill and the Delaware only at the gap through 
which the Lehigh entered. Bethlehem was inside the Lehigh gap, 
but its mission at Gnadenhuetten had been just outside it, a nat- 
ural point of attack by raiders from beyond the mountains. It was 
also a natural stronghold. If the French were allowed to build a 
fort there, they could harry the whole province and withstand an 
army many times their number advancing through the narrow 
defile from Northampton County. There must be a garrison to 
hold the site of the ruined village. But raiding Indians were sure 
to creep through the passes and fall upon pioneer families or 
weak settlements. The committee undertook to raise and station 
companies of provincial soldiers at intervals all the way from 
Easton to Reading, on the line of defence inside the mountains. 

Two days of hard riding over a bad road brought the commis- 
sioners with their cavalry to Bethlehem, the little commune of 
Moravian quietists settled there since 1741, now under the head- 
ship of Augustus Gottlieb Spangenberg. ‘‘I was surprised,'' Frank- 
lin later remembered, ‘‘to find it in so good a posture of defence; 
the destruction of Gnadenhut had made them apprehend danger. 
The principal buildings were defended by a stockade; they had 
purchased a quantity of arms and ammunition from New York, 
and had even placed quantities of small paving stones between 
the windows of their high stone houses, for their women to throw 
down upon the heads of any Indians that should attempt to force 
into them."^ The normal population of five hundred had been 
increased to three times as many by refugees from Moravian farms 
and missions, all of them frightened by a rumour that the town 
was to be attacked by an army of Indians on Christmas Day. But 
the commissioners, finding Bethlehem partly prepared, spent only 
a single night there, at the Crown Inn on the south side of the 
Lehigh, and the next morning crossed the river and went on to 
Easton. There William Parsons, one of the earliest members of 
the Junto and lately surveyor-general of the province, was laying 
out the town which had just been founded by the Penns at the 
forks of the Lehigh and the Delaware. 

Without the Moravian discipline of Bethlehem, Easton was in 


CHAPTER 10 Dogs in War 

terrified disorder. Refugees filled all the houses. The stores of food 
were nearly gone, and the people, thinking themselves abandoned 
by the government, were ready to give up the town and look for 
safety in Philadelphia. There was much drinking and quarrelling. 
Franklin promptly organized a guard, with Parsons commissioned 
as major, put sentries at the ends of the principal streets, set up a 
patrol around the town to watch for signs of Indians, cleared away 
the bushes as far as a musket would carry from the outlying houses, 
and arranged for runners to be sent regularly to distant farms. At 
the same time he and the commissioners enlisted about two hun- 
dred men in the provincial forces. Enlistment was slow, and the 
governor’s friends were pleased to see that the people did not rush 
to arms as Franklin had said they would under his militia act. 
The governor’s friends might have laughed loudly among them- 
selves if they had seen a letter which Franklin wrote at Easton to 
his friend Conrad Weiser at Reading, suggesting that dogs be used 
against the Indians. '‘They should be large, strong, and fierce; and 
every dog led in a slip string, to prevent their tiring themselves 
by running out and in, and discovering the party by barking at 
squirrels, etc. Only when the party come near thick woods and 
suspicious places, they should turn out a dog or two to search 
them. In case of meeting a party of the enemy, the dogs are all then 
to be turned loose and set on. They will be fresher and finer for 
having been previously confined, and will confound the enemy a 
good deal, and be very serviceable. This was the Spanish method 
of guarding their marches.”^ 

After ten days at Easton the commissioners set out for Reading 
by way of Bethlehem, escorted by their cavalrymen. Reinforce- 
ments from other counties had joined them while they were in 
Northampton and they had been able not only to leave a guard 
there but also to send two companies across the mountains. On 
the afternoon of 30 December the party arrived in Bethlehem, 
where Franklin for the first time met Bishop Spangenberg, who 
became his friend. The next day they rode on by the King’s High- 
way towards Reading, which they reached early New Year’s after- 
noon. They had come to confer with Governor Morris, who was 
later to meet certain friendly Indian chiefs at Harris’s Ferry. 
The governor had been in New York consulting with the gover- 


Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

nors of Massachusetts and New Jersey, although his Assembly had 
thought he was needed in his own province. It had not been pleas- 
ant for the governor, returning to Philadelphia, to find that the 
militia companies there had chosen Franklin for their colonel, or 
that, while the Council hesitated to approve this dubious choice, 
the militia made such a demonstration before the governor's house 
that he felt forced to promise he would confirm it. 

The conference at Reading, then a hundred log houses jumbled 
around a large, muddy central square, took up the treaty with the 
friendly Indians, various measures of local defence, and the prob- 
lem of the Germans, who the English thought, quite without rea- 
son, were making terms with the French. Franklin had intended to 
go from Reading back to Philadelphia, but on 3 January a runner 
came from Bethlehem with word that the soldiers recently sent 
to Gnadenhuetten had been surprised by Indians on New Year's 
Day and driven, those who were alive, through the Lehigh gap. 
The frontier was again exposed at its most vulnerable point. The 
first act of the conference was to offer a bounty of forty pieces of 
eight for the scalp of any Indian enemy killed in battle. The next 
was to decide that one of the commissioners must hurry to Bethle- 
hem and then to Gnadenhuetten to rebuild the fort. The choice 
fell upon Franklin. While Hamilton and Fox accompanied the 
governor to make their peaceful treaty, Franklin on 6 January 
turned back on a harder and more dangerous errand. By the gov- 
ernor's commission, issued the day before, Franklin was given — 
though no military rank — dictatorial powers in Northampton 
County, to organize and rule it, distribute munitions, and appoint 
or dismiss officers of the forces. Half the cavalry escorted the gov- 
ernor's party, and half Franklin, who still had his son as his aide. 

On the second day of his journey to Bethlehem he stopped at the 
encampment of the soldiers who had got away from Gnaden- 
huetten, and talked with their captain. Then to Bethlehem that 
afternoon, by a road crowded with the wagons of refugees. Bishop 
Spangenberg waited on the new commander-in-chief in the name 
of the congregation. Lodged at the house of Timothy Horsfield, 
an Englishman who was assistant to Spangenberg, Franklin spent 
a week in Bethlehem, directing civilian relief, assembling men to 
inarch to Gnadenhuetten, and disposing troops to guard the town- 


CHAPTER 10 In§iru£tions to Officers 

ships inside the mountains. For Captain Vanetta (John Van Etten) 
Franklin wrote out detailed and typical instructions on 12 Janu- 
ary. “You are to proceed immediately to raise a company of foot, 
consisting of thirty able men including two sergeants, with which 
you are to protect the inhabitants of Upper Smithfield, assisting 
them while they thresh out and secure their corn, and scouting 
from time to time as you judge necessary on the outside of the 
settlements, with such of the inhabitants as may join you, to dis- 
cover the enemy’s approaches and repel their attacks. . . . You 
are to keep a diary or journal of every day’s transactions, and an 
exact account of the time when each man enters himself with you; 
and if any man desert or die, you are to note the time in your 
journal, and the time of engaging a new man in his place, and 
submit your journal to the inspection of the governor when re- 
quired. . . .You are to acquaint the men that if in their ranging 
they meet with or are at any time attacked by the enemy, and kill 
any of them, forty dollars will be allowed and paid by the govern- 
ment for each scalp of an Indian enemy so killed, the same being 
produced with proper attestations. . . .You are to take care that 
your stores and provisions are not wasted. ... You are to keep 
good order among your men, and prevent drunkenness and other 
immoralities, as much as may be, and not suffer them to do any 
injury to the inhabitants whom they come to protect. . . . You 
are to take good care that the men keep their arms clean and in 
good order, and that their powder be always kept dry and fit for 

During this driven week in Bethlehem the commissioner was 
enough of a philosopher to inquire a little into the customs of 
the Moravians. “I found they worked for a common stock, eat at 
common tables, and slept in common dormitories, great numbers 
together. In the dormitories I observed loopholes, at certain dis- 
tances all along just under the ceiling, which I thought judiciously 
placed for change of air. I was at their church, where I was enter- 
tained with good music, the organ being accompanied with vio- 
lins, hautboys, clarinets, etc.” This was on the evening of Satur- 
da)', 10 January. On Sunday Franklin had the seat of honour below 
the choir loft, and, according to a Moravian diarist, was very atten- 
tive to the service. Bethlehem had the first municipal waterworks 

250 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

in America, which must have interested Franklin, and a co- 
operative store. But what he remembered best for his Autobiogra- 
phy was the fact that the Moravian marriages were sometimes, 
though not often, decided by lot. “I objected, if the matches were 
not made by the mutual choice of the parties, some of them may 
chance to be very unhappy. ‘And so they may,’ answered my in- 
former, ‘if you let the parties choose for themselves’: which, in- 
deed, I could not deny.”^ 

But the real business of the expedition was the fort at Gnaden- 
huetten, twenty miles from Bethlehem. On the morning of 15 
January Franklin wrote to his wife that they would move that day. 
“We shall have with us about one hundred and thirty men, and 
shall endeavour to act cautiously, so as to give the enemy no ad- 
vantage through our negligence. Make yourselves therefore easy. 
Give my hearty love to all friends.’”^ Besides his soldiers Franklin 
had a company of skilled axemen, frontier farmers, to cut down 
trees for the stockade, seven wagons with six horses each, a doctor, 
and a chaplain. The line of march followed the Lehigh. William 
Franklin led the advance through the pass. After him came the 
cavalry escort from Philadelphia, the survivors of Gnadenhuetten 
now returning to their post, then Franklin, the chaplain, and the 
wagons and baggage, and finally a rearguard of two companies. 
Scouts ranged the hills on either side. On the second night from 
Bethlehem they had good quarters at the tavern of Nicholas Up- 
linger. The next day was Franklin’s fiftieth birthday. “We began 
to march towards Gnadenhuetten and proceeded near two miles; 
but it seeming to set in for a rainy day, the men unprovided with 
greatcoats, and many unable to secure effectually their arms from 
the wet, we thought it most advisable to face about and return to 
our former quarters, where the men might dry themselves and be 
warm; whereas had they proceeded they would have come in wet 
to Gnadenhuetten, where shelter and opportunity of drying them- 
selves that night was uncertain. In fact, it rained all day, and we 
were all pleased that we had not proceeded. 

“The next day, being Sunday, we marched hither [to Gnaden- 
huetten], where we arrived about two in the afternoon, and before 
five had enclosed our camp with a strong breastwork, musket* 
proof, and with the boards brought here before by my order from 

CHAPTER 10 Building a Stockade 25 1 

Drucker’s mill, got ourselves under some shelter from the weather.” 
That evening they buried the dead who still lay exposed among 
the ruins of the mission. ''Monday was so dark with a thick fog 
all day that we could neither look out for a place to build nor see 
where materials were to be had. Tuesday morning we looked 
around us, pitched on a place, marked out our fort on the ground, 
and by ten o’clock began to cut timber for stockades and to dig 
the ground. By three in the afternoon the logs were all cut and 
many of them hauled to the spot, the ditch dug to set them in 
three feet deep, and that evening many were pointed and set up. 
The next day we were hindered by rain most of the day. Thursday 
we resumed our work, and before night were pretty well enclosed, 
and on Friday morning the stockado was finished and part of the 
platform within erected, which was completed the next morning.”® 

The fort, the simple stockade of the American frontier, was one 
hundred and twenty-five feet long by fifty wide. It took seventy 
axes five hours to cut down the trees they needed. "Seeing the trees 
fall so fast, I had the curiosity to look at my watch when two men 
began to cut at a pine; in six minutes they had it upon the 
ground, and I found it of fourteen inches diameter. Each pine 
made three palisades of eighteen feet long, pointed at one end.”^ 
While axes chopped, spades dug the ditch which marked the walls 
of the fort. Though it was cold and wet, the ground could hardly 
have been frozen, for the ditch was ready as soon as the trees. The 
wagons, with the bodies taken off, brought up the palisades, which 
averaged a foot thick. Set firmly in the ground, side by side, they 
made a wall twelve feet high which was strong enough to keep 
out Indians who had no cannon. Inside the wall a platform six 
feet from the ground ran the whole length, for the defenders to 
stand on in case of an attack. There was a well in the enclosure, 
and mounted at two corners were swivel guns. It was hardy work. 
This was January in the mountains, and the men had no overcoats 
or tents. They lived in the roughest huts till they could build 
barracks within the fort. But Franklin noted that they were ill- 
humoured only on the days when the rain kept them idle. 

On the second Sunday they hoisted a flag, fired off all their 
muskets and the two swivels, and named the place Fort Allen 
after the chief justice, (It stood in what is now a park in Weiss- 

252 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

port.) That day Franklin wrote to his wife that the fort was de- 
fensible and “we have every day more convenient living.'* Food 
had arrived from Pj;iiladelphia. “We have enjoyed your roast beef, 
and this day began on the roast veal. All agree that they are the 
best that ever were of the kind. Your citizens, that have their 
dinners hot and hot, know nothing of good eating. We find it in 
much greater perfection when the kitchen is four score miles from 
the dining room. The apples are extremely welcome, and do 
bravely eat after our salt pork; the minced pies are not yet come 
to hand, but I suppose we shall find them among the things ex- 
pected up from Bethlehem on Tuesday; the capillaire [a medicinal 
cordial] is excellent, but, none of us having taken cold as yet, we 
have only tasted it. As for our lodging, it is on deal featherbeds, 
in warm blankets."^^ If Franklin, used to his comfortable house, 
felt the hardships of the frontier he barely mentioned them, and 
always humorously. 

“We had for our chaplain/’ he later remembered, “a zealous 
Presbyterian minister, Mr. Beatty, who complained to me that the 
men did not generally attend his prayers and exhortations. When 
they enlisted they were promised, besides pay and provisions, a gill 
of rum a day, which was punctually served out to them, half in 
the morning and half in the evening; and I observed they were 
as punctual in attending to receive it; upon which I said to Mr. 
Beatty: It is perhaps below the dignity of your profession to act 
as steward of the rum; but if you were to deal it out, and only just 
after prayers, you would have them all about you.’ He liked the 
thought, undertook the office, and, with the help of a few hands 
to measure out the liquor, executed it to satisfaction; and never 
were prayers more generally and more punctually attended.”^^ 

During the second week the expedition built two other stock- 
ades, Fort Norris fifteen miles to the east of Fort Allen, Fort 
Franklin the same distance to the west. Besides the forts, Franklin 
had various military problems on his hands. There were now 
thirteen companies in the Northampton forces, about five hun- 
dred men, scattered from Gnadenhuetten to Easton. He was re- 
sponsible for seeing that they were armed, provisioned, and kept 
in touch with one another. Stealthy raids went on while he was at 
Gnadenhuetten, and survivors and refugees had to be cared for. 


Back to Politics 


The hut in which he slept at night on the pine floor along with 
his fellow-officers was crowded all day with business. “I thought to 
have wrote you a long letter,” he told his wife 30 January, “but 
here comes in a number of people, from different parts, that have 
business with me and interrupt me; we have but one room, and 
that quite public. He went with scouting parties in search of 
Indians in the woods. They found none, but they came upon cold 
campfires, holes dug in the ground for charcoal cut off burnt logs. 
The Indians had watched the white men building their fort, but 
thought them too strong to attack. 

Politics called Franklin back to Philadelphia sooner than he 
had expected. Though the Assembly was adjourned to 3 March, 
the governor suddenly convened it for 3 February. Franklin at 
Fort Allen had only two days’ notice. “I resolved to return; the 
more willingly, as a New England officer. Colonel Clapham, ex- 
perienced in Indian warfare, being on a visit to our establishment, 
consented to accept the command. I gave him a commission and, 
parading the garrison, had it read before them; and introduced 
him to them as an officer who from his skill in military affairs was 
much more fit to command them than myself; and, giving them a 
little exhortation, took my leave. I was escorted as far as Bethle- 
hem, where I rested a few days to recover from the fatigue I had 
undergone. The first night, being in a good bed, I could hardly 
sleep, it was so different from my hard lodging on the floor of our 
hunt at Gnadenhut wrapt only in a blanket or two.”^^ 

So Franklin remembered. Actually, Colonel Clapham had come 
to Fort Allen in the deliberate hope of succeeding Franklin. And 
the Moravian records show that Franklin arrived in Bethlehem on 
the afternoon of 4 February, had his horse shod and his bridle 
mended, and went on the next morning. He and his son, in spite 
of the bad roads, were in Philadelphia that night. 

Though the little campaign had ended, and Franklin turned at 
once to the affairs of the Assembly, he was still the choice of the 
Philadelphia militia for their colonel. Within two weeks he wai 
formally elected, and confirmed in his post by the reluctant gov- 
ernor on 24 February. The governor could not help himself in 
view of Franklin’s services and popularity, but there was lively 
opposition in the Council and among the governor’s friends. In 

254 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

England Thomas Penn, increasingly suspicious of Franklin, had 
taken steps which he hoped would lead to Franklin’s dismissal 
from the post office unless he changed his attitude toward the 
governor — that is, the proprietors. Franklin accepted his election 
and believed in the militia. “The first time I reviewed my regi- 
ment they accompanied me to my house, and would salute me with 
some rounds fired before my door, which shook down and broke 
several glasses of my electrical apparatus.”^^ On i6 March the regi- 
ment was paraded for the governor to review on Society Hill, and 
the Gazette said that “so grand an appearance was never seen in 
Pennsylvania.” The next day Franklin left for Virginia to confer 
with Hunter. “Twenty officers of my regiment, with about thirty 
grenadiers, presented themselves on horseback at my door just as 
I was going to mount, to accompany me to the ferry about three 
miles from town. Till we got to the end of the street, which is 
about two hundred yards, the grenadiers took it in their heads to 
ride with their swords drawn, but then they put them up peaceably 
into their scabbards, without hurting or even terrifying man, 
tvoman, or child; and from the ferry where we took leave and 
parted they all returned as quietly to their homes. This was the 
only instance of the kind; for though a greater number met me at 
my return, they did not ride with drawn swords, having been told 
that ceremony was improper, unless to compliment some person of 
great distinction. I who am totally ignorant of military ceremonies, 
and above all things averse to making show and parade or doing 
any useless thing that can serve only to excite envy or provoke 
malice, suffered at the time much more pain than I enjoyed 
pleasure and have never since given an opportunity for anything 
of the sort.”^^ 

Thomas Penn was pettishly incensed by these honours to Frank- 
lin, whom from England Penn saw as an upstart with an army of 
his own in Pennsylvania. While the news was being written to 
Penn, Franklin was in Williamsburg, “as gay as a bird,” he told 
his wife on 30 March, “not beginning yet to long for home, the 
worry of perpetual business being yet fresh in my memory. . . . 
Virginia is a pleasant country, now in full spring; the people 
extremely obliging and polite.”^® On 2 April he was given his 
honorary degree from William and Mary, and on the loth made a 

CHAPTER 10 Franklin Courted 255 

burgess and freeman of the borough of Norfolk. Back to the May 
sitting of the Assembly, he went in June to New York with an 
address to Governor Shirley, who was returning to England, to be 
succeeded as commander-in-chief of the British forces by Lord 
Loudoun, who arrived in July. Though Franklin had several in- 
terviews with Lord Loudoun, he was not wholly taken up with 
military affairs. He amused himself with the idea that he and 
George Whitefield, who had written that he would like to be a 
chaplain in the American army, might be employed by the Crown 
to settle a colony on the Ohio. ‘Xife, like a dramatic piece, should 
not only be conducted with regularity but methinks it should 
finish handsomely. Being now in the last act, I begin to cast about 
for something fit to end with. Or if mine be more properly com- 
pared to an epigram, as some of its few lines are barely tolerable, 

I am very desirous of concluding with a bright point.’’^^ But when 
Franklin returned to Philadelphia he returned to the dragging 
conflict between governor and Assembly, and soon heard that he 
was in worse favour than ever with the proprietors. “I am not much 
concerned by that,’' he wrote cheerfully to Collinson on 5 Novem- 
ber, ‘'because if I have offended them by acting right, I can, when- 
ever I please, reverse their displeasure by acting wrong.”^^ 

The governor and the proprietors tried by various arts to win 
Franklin over. Morris, who objected to Franklin as colonel, pro- 
posed after his expedition to the frontier that he lead an army to 
capture Fort Duquesne, with the rank of general. Franklin knew 
the governor wanted only to enlist him and his influence on the 
government side: “probably he might think that my popularity 
would facilitate the raising of the men, and my influence in Assem- 
bly the grant of money to pay them, and that, perhaps, without 
taxing the proprietary estate.”^® There is reason to guess that the 
proprietors had some influence with the Royal Society, which now 
elected Franklin to membership. There was no better reason for 
this than there had been for more than two years past, except that 
by 29 May several letters had come to London about his stub- 
bornness and his militia. Certainly when Morris was superseded by 
William Denny in August, the new governor brought with him the 
Society’s gold medal which had been awarded to Franklin in 
November 1753, but never sent to him. This Denny “presented to 


Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

me at an entertainment given him by the city. He accompanied 
it with very polite expressions of his esteem for me, having, as he 
said, been long acquainted with my character. After dinner, when 
the company as was customary at that time were engaged in drink- 
ing, he took me aside into another room, and acquainted me that 
he had been advised by his friends in England to cultivate a friend- 
ship with me as one who was capable of giving him the best advice 
and of contributing most effectually to the making his administra- 
tion easy; that he therefore desired of all things to have a good 
understanding with me, and he begged me to be assured of his 
readiness on all occasions to render me every service that might be 
in his power. He said much to me, also, of the proprietor’s good 
disposition towards the province, and of the advantage it might be 
to us all, and to me in particular, if the opposition that had been 
so long continued to his measures was dropped, and harmony 
restored between him and the people; in effecting which it was 
thought no one could be more serviceable than myself; and I might 
depend on adequate acknowledgments and recompenses, etc., etc. 
The drinkers, finding we did not return immediately to the table, 
sent us a decanter of Madeira which the governor made liberal use 
of, and in proportion became more profuse of his solicitations and 

The philosopher was not beguiled by the politician. He was a 
better politician himself. Franklin had not raised the militia or 
gone to the frontier because he was ambitious in the way the pro- 
prietors thought. Northampton County had been invaded by sav- 
ages and must be defended. Franklin could never see chaos without 
thinking of order. The role of soldier was new to him, and he took 
a dramatic pleasure in it. But organizing his thirteen companies 
was hardly different from organizing the post office. He had not 
really ceased to be a civilian, and he felt the least chagrin when the 
militia act was repealed in England and all the commissions died 
with it. It was like the proprietors, he may have thought, to make 
an issue of so small a matter as his military episode. What inter- 
ested him was the right of the whole province to have some say in 
governing itself without what he thought the selfish interference 
of distant, unimaginative landlords. He did not yet see how much 



Bounties for Scalps 

revolution was implicit in the Assembly’s stand against the pro- 
prietors and their antiquated tenure. 


The war went on between the Assembly and the governor. The 
Assembly had voted money for defence. The governor wanted to 
take offensive steps. Against the will of the Quakers in the Assem- 
bly he declared war on the Delawares on 14 April, with the abom- 
inable provision to which the commissioners for the defence fund 
agreed: ‘'I do hereby declare and promise that there shall be paid 
out of the said sixty thousand pounds to all and every person and 
persons, as well Indians as Christians, not in the pay of the prov- 
ince, the several and respective premiums and bounties following, 
that is to say: For every male Indian energy above twelve years old 
who shall be taken prisoner and delivered at any fort garrisoned 
by the troops in the pay of this province or at any of the county 
towns to the keepers of the common jails there, the sum of one 
hundred and fifty Spanish dollars or pieces of eight; For the scalp 
of every male Indian enemy above the age of twelve years, pro- 
duced as evidence of their being killed, the sum of one hundred 
and thirty pieces of eight; For every female Indian taken prisoner 
and brought in as aforesaid, and for every male Indian prisoner 
under the age of twelve years taken and brought in as aforesaid, 
one hundred and thirty pieces of eight; For the scalp of every 
Indian woman produced as evidence of their being killed, the sum 
of fifty pieces of eight; And for every English subject that has been 
taken and carried from this province into captivity, that shall be 
recovered and brought in and delivered at the city of Philadelphia, 
the sum of one hundred and fifty pieces, but nothing for their 
scalps.”^^ Officers and soldiers in the pay of the province were to 
have only half the amounts. 

In a situation so desperate that it seemed to call for these pitiless 
measures the Quakers in the Assembly began to leave it rather than 
take part. Six of them resigned that year, and enough later to give 
non-Quakers the majority. When it came to voting money again, 

258 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

the governor still would not assent to any taxing of the proprietary 
estates. The £5000 which the proprietors had offered, it now ap- 
peared, was to be collected in Pennsylvania out of unpaid money 
due them as quit-rents, about which the proprietors had had a 
great deal of trouble with their careless, unwilling tenants. The 
Assembly could act as collectors, and could advance whatever sums 
were slow in coming in. The Assembly insisted on their rights, the 
governor resisted under his instructions. Morris was succeeded in 
August by Denny, who turned out to be equally bound by the pro- 
prietors. In September the Assembly voted £30,000 on the gov- 
ernor’s terms, yielding their rights only for this emergency, and 
resolving that it was necessary to send a remonstrance to England. 

By the end of 1756 the province was in more danger than ever. 
The French still held Duquesne, and in August had taken the 
British fort at Oswego. In November a party of Indians had sur- 
prised Fort Allen, killed, captured, or driven away the garrison, 
and burned the village as well as Franklin’s stockade — at a time 
when Franklin was with Denny at Easton making a treaty with the 
friendly Tedyuskung, who called himself king of the Delawares.^^ 
The Lehigh gap lay open to the French. The governor in Decem- 
ber asked £125,000 for the coming year. The Assembly voted 
£100,000 on terms which they thought liberal though just. The 
governor in January vetoed the bill, and said that he would trans- 
mit a copy of it to the king. The Assembly resolved on 28 January 
to send commissioners to England to present their cause, and the 
next day named the Speaker and Franklin. Isaac Norris on 3 Feb- 
ruary pleaded his age and ill-health. Franklin said he was willing 
to go as soon as the Assembly required. They excused Norris for 
the present and resolved that Franklin ‘*do first go over.” The 
Assembly prepared another bill. The governor held out. Lord 
Loudoun came to Philadelphia in March and conferred with 
Franklin and the governor. Franklin offered the Assembly’s 
arguments, the governor the proprietors’ instructions. Loudoun 
“finally . . . rather chose to urge the compliance of the Assembly; 
and he entreated me to use my endeavours with them for that 
purpose, declaring that he would spare none of the king’s troops 
for the defence of our frontiers, and that if we did not continue 
to provide for that defence ourselves they must remain exposed to 

CHAPTER 10 Towards England 25 i> 

the enemy.”^® Franklin persuaded the Assembly, conceding the 
occasion but not the principle, to make the bill conform, and the 
governor assented. On 4 April Franklin left for the packet at New 
York, with his son, who had resigned from his clerkship, and a 
dozen friends, who rode, with them as far as Trenton. 

Summary of an American 

S OMEBODY who may have been Robert Feke of Newport 
or John Greenwood of Boston had painted the earliest known 
portrait of Franklin about the time he retired from business. Not 
long before leaving for England he is said to have sat for another 
portrait said to be by Matthew Pratt, whose father was a trades- 
man and a member of the Library Company. Franklin had not yet, 
both portraits show, grown to that look of benevolence, sometimes 
shy and always sage, which is familiar from his later likenesses. He 
was not in appearance unmistakably a philosopher. His eyes were 
open, full, and bold, the line of his mouth straight and even a little 
hard. His heavy chin was stubborn if not assertive. He still had 
the marks of the self-made man which he was, not yet refined to 
the ripe native genius which Europe took him for. He looked suc- 
cessful rather than superior. 

In various respects he was the quintessence of provincial Amer- 
ica. Born of the “middling people,*' he had emerged from his class 
without deserting it, and he never pretended or wanted to belong 
to the aristocracy. He had prospered along with many other men 
in Pennsylvania and in the other colonies. Though he talked about 
frugal living and was indifferent to hardships on his travels, he 
lived comfortably at home, liked rum punch and Madeira, and 
was on his way to gout. In his impulse toward intellectual pursuits 
he was not too much ahead of his society. There had been a dozen 
ambitious young tradesmen in his Junto, and enough men of 
learning in America to make up, however slowly, the American 
Philosophical Society. A large part of his leisure had always been 
devoted to the concerns of the common life: warming houses with 
his stove, protecting them against fire with his volunteer firemen 
and his lightning rod; persuading Philadelphia to pave its streets 




and to light and guard them at night (the bill for the lights and 
the watch was before the Assembly when Franklin went to Eng- 
land); founding a library and an academy and a hospital and a fire 
insurance company; urging the homely virtues through the max- 
ims of Poor Richard; defending the frontiers against the Indians; 
and in the Assembly powerfully upholding the rights of the whole 
people as against the special interests of the proprietors and their 

In himself Franklin summed up the growing tendency toward 
intercolonial understanding. He had been bom in New England, 
and he remembered it in Pennsylvania. His brother's widow was 
postmaster in Boston, and his brother in Philadelphia. One of his 
partners was postmaster in New Haven, and the son of another in 
Charleston. Franklin's partner in New York was controller of the 
colonial post office. Through William Hunter, joint Deputy 
Postmaster-General, Franklin was in touch with Virginia. He had 
planned with Washington in 1756 to persuade the two colonies to 
unite in building the road between Philadelphia and Winchester. 
No other man in America had seen so much of it as Franklin at 
first hand or had so wide an acquaintance among its influential 
men. His beginnings in intercolonial affairs had been made with 
his newspaper, his almanac, his partnerships, his magazine, none 
of which was so important as his philosophical correspondence and 
widening reputation. By 1757 he had long made peace with Har- 
vard and was friendly with its president and professors, and he was 
on the best of terms with Yale. He had received honorary degrees 
from the three chief colleges in America, and had himself been 
largely responsible for the college in Pennsylvania. As philosopher 
and scientist he was friend or correspondent of most of the best 
scholars in America, except Jonathan Edwards, who died the 
next year. 

The world of learning in America was more open to talent than 
the world of government. Offices were likely to go by birth, favor, 
or influence. Franklin owed his place in the post office in part to 
the recommendation of Chief Justice Allen, who now bitterly 
disapproved of Franklin’s opposition to the proprietors. Other men 
who had encouraged the young tradesman must have regretted it 
as they saw him rise to a power they could not have foreseen. Most 

262 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

of them had been born or educated in Great Britain. Franklin 
belonged to a generation bred in America, aware of its changing 
circumstances, and slowly coming to feel that it must have a new 
status in the Empire. He had so strong a popular support in Penn- 
sylvania that the conservative party could not keep him out of the 
government, or dispense with his special services when he was in 
it. At Albany he had been the only tradesman on the committee 
to draw up the Plan of Union, but his plan had been chosen over 
that of any of the others, even of Thomas Hutchinson. Though 
governors might not take Franklin’s advice, they had to listen to 
him. If they had only known, they were listening to ideas which 
were to become a continental groundswell of opinion. But Frank- 
lin was still early with his ideas about labour, land, population, 
the frontier, colonial union, and self-government. Now fifty-one, 
he was to be seventy when he signed the Declaration of Inde- 
pendence, eighty-one when he signed the Constitution. Of his great 
associates in the founding of the Republic, Washington in 1757 
was twenty-five, John Adams twenty-two, Jefferson fourteen, Madi- 
son six years, and Hamilton six months old. 


Franklin did not have to go far from Philadelphia to run again 
into the British confusion which was the cause of much colonial 
discontent. Lord Loudoun, who was assembling a fleet in New 
York to lead against Louisbourg, controlled the packets for Eng- 
land. Franklin had already missed one, carrying his sea stores, 
while he conferred with Loudoun and Morris in Philadelphia. In 
New York Loudoun, genuinely overwhelmed with the details of 
the undertaking, said day after day that the London packet would 
sail at once. Two packets were waiting when Franklin arrived, and 
9. third came in while he waited. “Passengers were engaged in all, 
and some extremely impatient to be gone, and the merchants un- 
easy about their letters and the orders they had given for insurance 
(it being wartime) for fall goods; but their anxiety availed nothing; 
his lordship’s letters were not ready; and yet whoever waited on 
him found him always at his desk, pen in hand, and concluded he 



Delay in JsTew Tork 

must write abundantly. . . , This daily expectation of sailing, and 
all the three packets going down to Sandy Hook to join the fleet 
there, the passengers thought it best to be on board, lest by a 
sudden order the ship should sail and they be left behind. There, 
if I remember right, we were about six weeks consuming our sea 
stores and obliged to procure more.”^ 

Senseless delay was hard on Franklin. ‘1 have been very low- 
spirited all day,'’ he wrote to his wife after seven weeks. ‘‘This 
tedious state of uncertainty has almost worn out my patience. Ex- 
cept the two or three weeks at Woodbridge, I know not when I 
have spent time so uselessly.”^ The weeks at Woodbridge, New 
Jersey, he had spent at the house of his New York partner, James 
Parker, where Deborah and Sally Franklin joined him. With them 
and his son, and some unnamed “gentlemen and ladies” from New 
York, Franklin early in May led “a little excursion in the Jerseys,” 
to Newark, Passaic Falls, and the Schuyler copper mines. William 
had not had “the least idea that views so agreeably enchanting were 
to be met with in America.”^ Perhaps the amusements of New 
York, with John Temple and James Abercrombie (son of the Brit- 
ish general) and a gentleman from Rhode Island and an Irish beau 
from Philadelphia (where William had not met him), all of whom 
were waiting for the packet,^ were consolation enough for Frank- 
lin’s son, who wrote gallant letters to Elizabeth Graeme, whom in 
fact he was deserting. 

Franklin had several conferences with Loudoun about the inden- 
tured servants in Pennsylvania who had been enlisted in the army 
with no compensation to their masters. Loudoun had countless 
reasons for leaving the matter unsettled. Franklin applied for the 
balance still due him for the provisions furnished Braddock, par- 
ticularly since the delay in New York was being expensive. Lou- 
doun promised to give an order on the paymaster, then repeatedly 
put oS doing it. When Franklin protested, Loudoun made it clear 
that he was sure Franklin must already have made money out of 
the job and should not complain about a little delay. “I assured 
him that was not my case, and that I had not pocketed a farthing; 
but he appeared clearly not to believe me; and, indeed, I have 
since learnt that immense fortunea' are often made in such employ- 
ments.”® Franklin reflected that Braddock and Loudoun were 

264 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

hardly better than Morris and Denny. If Britain could or would 
not spare more competent men to administer the colonies, the 
colonists must do more of it themselves. 

From 4 April when Franklin left Philadelphia to 26 July when 
he reached London was the longest period of idleness he had 
known since he was first apprenticed to his brother. In New York, 
never knowing when the ship might sail, he could undertake little 
more than letters, and he wrote more letters than he is known ever 
to have written before in that length of time. He wrote to his wife 
on 27 May asking her to send him his best spectacles which he had 
forgotten, and to deliver to Parker two books which Franklin care- 
fully directed her to, 'In my room on the folio shelf between the 
clock and our bedchamber and not far from the clock, stands a 
folio called the Gardener's Dictionary by P. Miller. And on the 
same side of the room, on the lowest shelf or lowest but one, near 
the middle and by the side of a little partition, you will find stand- 
ing, or rather lying on its fore edge, a quarto pamphlet covered 
with blue paper, called a Treatise of Cider-MakingT^ He wrote to 
her about various matters of business, and sent her and Sally the 
most affectionate messages. He wrote three times to his sister Jane 
in Boston, discussing the future of his nephews, and gently agreeing 
that Elizabeth Dowse, the eldest of all the Franklin brothers and 
sisters and then eighty, must be allowed to go on living in her 
own house. "As having their own way is one of the greatest com- 
forts of life to old people, I think their friends should endeavour 
to accommodate them in that as well as in anything else. When 
they have lived long in a house it becomes natural to them; they 
are almost as closely connected with it as a tortoise with its shell; 
old folks and old trees, if you remove them, it is ten to one that 
you kill them.’”^ He wrote in detail to Isaac Norris about Loudoun 
and the case of the indentured servants. 

Colonel Henry Bouquet, whom Franklin had met in Philadel- 
phia, was going to South Carolina. He had given Franklin letters 
of introduction to men in London, and Franklin gave him letters 
to his friends Alexander Garden and John Lining, both physicians, 
in Charleston. "I regret much/’ Franklin wrote to Bouquet, "that 
through your business and mine I could enjoy so little of your 
conversation in Philadelphia. How happy are the folks in heaven, 

CHAPTER 11 Letters at Leisure 265 

who, ’tis said, having nothing to do but to talk with one another, 
except now and then a little singing and drinking of aqua 
To Garden, after whom Linnaeus named the gardenia, Franklin 
wrote that he hoped to return from England by way of Charleston, 
to see his friends there. To Lining, Franklin wrote at length about 
certain phenomena of heat and cold, particularly the effects of 
evaporation which a correspondent in Glasgow had reported to 
him. ‘'I have not had leisure to repeat and examine more than the 
first and easiest of them, viz.. Wet the ball of a thermometer by a 
feather dipped in spirit of wine which has been kept in the same 
room and has, of course, the same degree of heat or cold. The 
mercury sinks presently three or four degrees, and the quicker if 
during the evaporation you blow on the ball with a bellows; a 
second wetting and blowing, when the mercury is down, carries it 
yet lower. I think I did not get it lower than five or six degrees 
from where it naturally stood, which was at that time sixty.'’® From 
there Franklin went on to observations of his own on the different 
conductivity of different substances. 

At last about the middle of June the fleet and convoy sailed from 
New York. The packets for five days attended Loudoun’s flagship, 
to take on his dispatches when his interminable writing should be 
done. Then, though two of the packets were kept with the fleet as 
far as Halifax, Franklin’s was released and steered for England. 
*‘Our captain of the packet had boasted much, before we sailed, 
of the swiftness of his ship; unfortunately, when we came to sea, 
she proved the dullest of ninety-six sail, to his no small mortifica- 
tion. After many conjectures respecting the cause, when we were 
near another ship almost as dull as ours, which, however, gained 
upon us, the captain ordered all hands to come aft and stand as 
near the ensign-staff as possible. We were, passengers included, 
about forty persons. While we stood there, the ship mended her 
pace and soon left her neighbour far behind, which proved clearly 
what our captain suspected: that she was loaded too much by the 
head. The casks of water, it seems, had been all placed forward; 
these he therefore ordered to be moved further aft, on which the 
ship recovered her character and proved the best sailer in the 
fleet.”^® Franklin speculated on the nautical assumption, at the 
time, that it could never be known how a ship would sail till she 

^66 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

was built and could be tested. The trouble was, the philosopher 
decided, that ‘‘one man builds the hull, another rigs her, a third 
lades her and sails her. No one of these has the advantage of know- 
ing all the ideas and experience of the others, and therefore cannot 
draw just conclusions from a combination of the whole.”^^ What 
was called for was a set of accurate experiments on all such mat- 
ters, jointly undertaken and carried out to a common end. Nothing 
was alien to this philosopher, whose countrymen were soon to 
develop faster ships than had ever sailed before. 

During the voyage Franklin, with more time than usual on his 
hands, wrote more than a usual preface for his next year’s almanac. 
It was to be a summary of Poor Richard’s counsels on economy. 
Poor Richard, he told his readers in the new preface dated 7 July, 
had seldom had the pleasure of being quoted by other learned 
authors, though in conversation he had sometimes quoted himseJf. 
But at an auction he had recently heard an old man, called Father 
Abraham, make a speech drawn almost altogether from Poor 
Richard. This preface was that speech. Here were the best econom- 
ical maxims from the almanacs of twenty-five years. Either because 
Franklin had no file with him and was quoting from memory, or 
more likely because he wanted to give a sharper point to the adages, 
he several times revised his text. In 1740 he had written: “An 
empty bag cannot stand upright.” In 1750 he had elaborated it: 
“ ’Tis hard (but glorious) to be poor and honest. An empty sack 
can hardly stand upright; but if it does, ’tis a stout one.” Now he 
gave the proverb its final form: “ ’Tis hard for an empty bag to 
stand upright.” In 1743 he had written: “If you’d have it done, go; 
if not, send.” Now he tried to make this clearer, and made it 
weaker: “If you would have your business done, go; if not, send.’' 
He changed the person of pronouns, the tenses of verbs; he put in 
a few proverbs that had not appeared before: among them the 
famous: “Three removes is as good as a fire”; and the homely: 
“Always taking out of the meal-tub and never putting in soon 
comes to the bottom.” And all of them were dramatically fitted to 
the character of Father Abraham. 

If he had a file of Poor Richard with him, Franklin, turning 
through it, might have noticed that he had touched many topics in 
the past ten years of his public life. *“What maintains one vice 


Father Abraham 


would bring up two children’’ (1747). 'Tost time is never found 
again” (1748). “The muses love the morning” (1748). “He is not 
well bred that cannot bear ill-breeding in others” (1748). “The 
end of passion is the beginning of repentance” (1749). “Many foxes 
grow grey, but few grow good” (1749). “Having been poor is no 
shame, but being ashamed of it is” (1749). “Doing an injury puts 
you below your enemy; revenging one makes you but even with 
him; forgiving it sets you above him” (1749). “Discontented minds 
and fevers of the body are not to be cured by changing beds or 
businesses” (1750)- ‘'Men would live by their wits, but break for 
want of stock” (1750). *“We may give advice, but we cannot give 
conduct” (1750). “Cunning proceeds from want of capacity” 
(1750). “Old boys have their playthings as well as young ones; the 
difference is only in the price” (1752). “The brave and the wise can 
both pity and excuse when cowards and fools show no mercy” 
(1752). “ ’Tis against some men’s principle to pay interest, and 
seems against others’ interest to pay principal” (1753). “He that 
best understands the world least likes it” (1753). “Anger is never 
without a reason, but seldom with a good one” (1753). “The bell 
calls others to church, but itself never minds the sermon” (1754). 
“Cut the wings of your hopes and hens, lest they lead you a weary 
dance after them” (1754). “Love your neighbour, yet don’t pull 
down your hedge” (1754). “When prosperity was well mounted, 
she let go the bridle, and soon came tumbling out of the saddle” 
(1754). “An hundred thieves cannot strip one naked man, espe- 
cially if his skin’s off” (1755). “It is ill manners to silence a fool, 
and cruelty to let him go on” (1757). “Retirement does not always 
secure virtue. Lot was upright in the city, wicked in the moun- 
tains” (1757). When Franklin had finished his preface he added a 
variety of maxims for the body of the almanac for 1758. *“Half a 
truth is often a great lie.” “The first mistake in public business is 
the going into it.” “In a corrupt age the putting the world in order 
would breed confusion; then e’en mind your own business.” 

But for the summary preface Franklin chose only the maxims of 
worldly prudence suitable to the occasion. Such a preface could 
not be left to wear out in an old almanac, along with the earlier 
issues of Poor Richard. Benjamin Mecom, Franklin’s nephew in 
Boston, published it separately as Father Abraham's Speech the 

£68 Benjamin Franklin Philadelphia 

following March. Under that and its later title The Way to Wealth 
it spread throughout the colonies and followed Franklin to Europe. 
Translated into many languages, it long ago passed from literature 
into the general human speech. 

Later in July the packet was several times chased by French 
privateers. Near Falmouth the captain determined to run the last 
night to avoid the enemy, “who often cruised near the entrance of 
the channel. Accordingly all the sail was set that we could possibly 
make, and, the wind being very fresh and fair, we went right before 
it and made great way. . . . We had a watchman placed in the 
bow, to whom they often called: ‘Look well out before there,* and 
he as often answered: ‘Aye, aye*; but perhaps had his eyes shut and 
was half asleep at the time, they sometimes answering, as is said, 
mechanically; for he did not see a light just before us which had 
been hid by the studding-sails from the man at the helm and from 
the rest of the watch, but by an accidental yaw of the ship was 
discovered and occasioned a great alarm, we being very near it, 
the light appearing to me as big as a cart wheel. It was midnight, 
and our captain fast asleep; but Captain Kennedy, jumping up on 
deck and seeing the danger, ordered the ship to wear around, all 
sails standing; an operation dangerous to the masts, but it carried 
us clear and we escaped shipwreck, for we were running right upon 
the rocks upon which the lighthouse was erected. This deliverance 
impressed me strongly with the utility of lighthouses, and made me 
resolve to encourage the building more of them in America if I 
should live to return there. 

“In the morning it was found by the soundings, etc., that we 
were near our port, but a thick fog hid the land from our sight. 
About nine o’clock the fog began to rise and seemed to be lifted 
up from the water like the curtain at a playhouse, discovering 
underneath the town of Falmouth, the vessels in its harbour, and 
the fields that surrounded it. ... I set out immediately with my 
son for London, and we only stopped a little by the way to view 
Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain and Lord Pembroke’s house and 
gardens, with his very curious antiquities at Wilton. We arrived 
in London the 27th [26th] of July 1757/’^^ 



F RANKLIN’S reputation as a scientist had gone ahead of 
him to London. A member since April 1756 of the Royal 
Society, he had been member also since September of the Premium 
Society, for the encouragement of arts, manufactures, and com- 
merce, now known as the Society of Arts. On 27 November of that 
year he had written that he was sending twenty guineas '‘to be 
applied in premiums for some improvement in Britain, as a grate- 
ful though small return for your most kind and generous inten- 
tions of encouraging improvements in America. I flatter myself, 
from that part of your plan, that those jealousies of her colonies 
which were formerly entertained by the mother country begin to 
subside. . . . Never be discouraged by any apprehension that arts 
are come to such perfection in England as to be incapable of farther 
improvement. As yet, the quantity of human knowledge bears no 
proportion to the quantity of human ignorance.”^ Both his socie- 
ties were prepared to welcome him, as were scientists on the 
Continent. Beccaria from Turin saluted Franklin as “vir prseclaris- 
sime” in a Latin letter of welcome dated 24 December 1757.^ 

But Franklin, that man of friendships, had few personal friends 
in London, and those mostly by correspondence. He had reported 
to Peter Collinson, Quaker, merchant, and member of the Royal 
Society, all his observations on electricity. He had for fourteen 
years exchanged letters with William Strahan, printer already of 
Johnson’s dictionary and the first volumes of Hume’s history and 
later of Adam Smith, Gibbon, Robertson, and Blackstone. The 
two printers had more than trade and business in common. They 
sent each other news about their families, and ever since Sally 
Franklin was six or seven had humorously planned a marriage 
between her and Strahan’s son William, who was three years older. 



Benjamin Franklin 

Even before Franklin told the Assembly he would go to London as 
their agent, he hurried letters off to Collinson and Strahan. ‘'Our 
Assembly/’ he told Strahan, “talk of sending me to England 
speedily. Then look out sharp, and if a fat old fellow should come 
to your printing house and request a little smouting [job work], 
depend upon it ’tis your affectionate friend and humble servant/’^ 

When Franklin and his son reached London late on 26 July 
they spent the first night at Collinson’s house at Mill Hill. Strahan 
called on them the next day. Both Collinson and Strahan were 
instantly captivated by the philosopher. “For my own part,” 
Strahan wrote to Deborah Franklin, “I never saw a man who was, 
in every respect, so perfectly agreeable to me. Some are amiable 
in one view, some in another, he in all. . . . Your son I really 
think one of the prettiest young gentlemen I ever knew from 
America.”^ After a few days at the Bear Inn the father and son 
found lodgings with Margaret Stevenson, a widow living with her 
daughter Mary at y (later 36) Craven Street, Strand, where Frank- 
lin stayed as long as he was in London. He had four rooms, and 
lived handsomely, with two servants he had brought from Phila- 
delphia. Nor did the philosopher disregard the London fashions. 
His account books show that the earliest expenses of the new 
household were for stationery, shoes, and wigs, linen to be made up 
into shirts, and cambric for William’s handkerchiefs. There were 
a sword and sword blade to be mended, and such varied purchases 
as spectacles and a glass, a watch at auction, mourning swords, a 
sword knot, two pairs of silver shoe and knee buckles, two razors 
and a case, and copies of the Gentleman' s Magazine. William, 
whose wants were greater than his father’s, was entered in the 
Middle Temple to study for the bar. 

Franklin promptly took up the mission on which he had come 
to London. First he consulted John Fothergill, the Scottish doctor 
who had urged that the Philadelphia letters on electricity be 
printed. Fothergill thought Franklin should not complain imme- 
diately to the government but should first apply to the proprietors. 
While Fothergill was arranging a meeting with them, Collinson 
arranged that Franklin should go with John Hanbury, “the great 
Virginia merchant,” to call on Lord Granville, president of the 
Privy Council. Granville was disturbing to the agent who had 


Franklin and the Penns 


come to plead the cause of the Assembly. “The Council,'* Granville 
said, and Franklin reported to Isaac Norris, “is over all the coF 
onies; your last resort is to the Council to decide your differences, 
and you must be sensible it is for your good, for otherwise you 
often would not obtain justice. The king in council is legislator of 
the colonies; and when His Majesty’s instructions come there, they 
are the law of the land . . . and as such ought to be obeyed.”® 
“I told his lordship this was new doctrine to me. I had always 
understood from our charters that our laws were to be made by our 
assemblies, to be presented indeed to the king for his royal assent, 
but that being once given the king could not repeal or alter them. 
And as the assemblies could not make permanent laws without his 
assent, so neither could he make a law for them without theirs. 
He assured me I was totally mistaken.”® Franklin, come to appeal 
from the proprietors to the king, found that one of the king’s 
ministers thought very much like a proprietor. 

The meeting at Thomas Penn’s house in Spring Garden about 
the middle of August was polite but hostile. Franklin presented 
the Heads of Complaint that he had brought, and was told to re- 
duce them to writing. When he did this on so August, the paper 
was turned over to Ferdinand John Paris, “a proud, angry man,” 
who had drafted many of the proprietarial messages to the Assem- 
bly and bitterly resented Franklin’s stinging answers. The Penns 
asked the agent to deal with their lawyer. Franklin refused to treat 
with anybody but them. They claimed they could not find out 
from the complaint what the Assembly meant and wanted. Would 
Franklin draw up a supply bill such as the Assembly would ap- 
prove? He said he had no authority to do that, and declined to. 
They then, on Paris’s suggestion, referred the document to the 
attorney-general and the solicitor-general for an opinion. As this 
was August and the royal lawyers were out of town, nothing could 
be done at once. Not until November 1758 did the proprietors 
have an answer ready, and then they sent it to the Assembly, snub- 
bing Franklin, who they said had handled the affair without due 
formality or candour. Franklin could think of no informality on 
his part except that he had not, in his paper, addressed them as 
Tiue and Absolute Proprietaries of the Province of Pennsylvania. 
He had been only setting down for their convenience what he had 

£74 Benjamin Franklin London 

already said in conversation. Whatever excuses they gave, the truth 
is that they heartily disliked him for his past record and his present 
firmness. After all, he was dangerous, as spokesman of the Assem- 
bly, to their pockets, their prerogative, and their peace of mind. 

Franklin was not behind them in dislike. He said to Thomas 
Penn that the original charter of the province gave the Assembly 
“all the powers and privileges of an assembly according to the 
rights of free-born subjects of England, and as is usual in any of the 
British plantations in America. ‘Yes,’ says he, ‘but if my father 
granted privileges he was not by the royal charter empowered to 
grant, nothing can be claimed by such grant.’ I said: ‘Then if your 
father had no right to grant the privileges he pretended to grant, 
and published all over Europe as granted, those who came to settle 
in the province on the faith of that grant, and in expectation of 
enjoying the privileges contained in it, were deceived, cheated, and 
betrayed.’ He answered that they should have themselves looked to 
that; that the royal charter was no secret; they who came into the 
province on his father’s offer of privileges, if they were deceived, it 
was their own fault. And that he said with a kind of triumphing, 
laughing insolence, such as a low jockey might do when a pur- 
chaser complained that he had cheated him on a horse. I was 
astonished to see him thus meanly give up his father’s character, 
and conceived at that moment a more cordial and thorough con- 
tempt for him than I ever felt for any man living, a contempt that 
I cannot express in words, but I believe my countenance expressed 
it strongly, and that his brother, who was looking at me, must have 
observed it. However, finding myself grow warm, I made no other 
answer to this than that the poor people were no lawyers them- 
selves and, confiding in his father, did not think it necessary to 
consult any.’”^ 

Impatiently waiting, Franklin had a serious illness that lasted 
eight weeks. About the first of September, he told his wife, he had 
“a violent cold and something of a fever” for a day or two, and 
then thought he had recovered. “However, it was not long before 
I had another severe cold which continued longer than the first, 
attended by great pain in my head, the top of which was very hot 
and, when the pain went off, very sore and tender. These fits of 

CHAPTER 12 A Long Illness ^75 

pain continued sometimes longer than at others; seldom less than 
twelve hours, and once thirty-six hours. I was now and then a little 
delirious; they cupped me on the back o£ the head, which seemed 
to ease me for the present; I took a great deal of bark [cinchona] 
both in substance and infusion; and, too soon thinking myself well, 
I ventured out twice to do a little business and forward the service 
I am engaged in, and both times got fresh cold and fell down again. 
My good doctor [Fothergill] grew very angry with me, for acting 
contrary to his cautions and directions, and obliged me to promise 
more observance for the future. He attended me very carefully and 
affectionately; and the good lady of the house nursed me kindly. 
Billy was also of great service to me, in going from place to place 
where I could not go myself, and Peter was very diligent and 
attentive. I took so much bark in various ways that I began to 
abhor it; I durst not take a vomit for fear of my head; but at last 
I was seized one morning with a vomiting and purging, the latter 
of which continued the greater part of the day, and I believe was 
a kind of crisis to the distemper, carrying it clear off; for ever since 
I feel quite lightsome, and am every day gathering strength; so 1 
hope my seasoning is over and that I shall enjoy better health dur- 
ing the rest of my stay in England.’ ' 

This was written on 22 November, when Fothergill had allowed 
Franklin to think of letters again. He ran on cheerfully at length, 
replying to all he had heard from his wife and sending her bits of 
gossip. He had been visiting with Shirley, the former governor of 
Massachusetts. William Hunter, Franklin’s associate in the colonial 
post office, was in England, and he and his sister wanted to be 
remembered to Mrs. Franklin. James Ralph, after all these years, 
was friendly and obliging. Though he was glad to hear about his 
daughter and grandchildren in America, he did not want his pres- 
ent wife to know that he had them. On 3 December Franklin added 
a long postscript. ‘It is now twelve days since I began to write this 
letter, and I still continue well, but have not yet quite recovered 
my strength, flesh, or spirits. I every day drink a glass of infusion 
of bark in wine, by way of prevention, and hope my fever will no 
more return; on fair days, which are but few, I venture out about 
noon. The agreeable conversation I meet with among men of 

£76 Benjamin Franklin London 

learning, and the notice taken of me by persons of distinction, are 
the principal things that soothe me for the present, under this 
painful absence from my family and friends/’^ 

He had intended if he had been well, he said in the same post- 
script, to go round among the shops for “some pretty things for 
you and my dear good Sally (whose little hands you say eased your 
headache) to send by this ship, but I must now defer it to the next, 
having only got a crimson satin cloak for you, the newest fashion, 
and the black silk for Sally; but Billy sends her a scarlet feather, 
muff, and tippet, and a box of fashionable linen for her dress/' By 
February Franklin, with the help of his landlady, had got together 
and shipped two cases of presents, which he described in ajBEec- 
tionate, perhaps homesick detail.® He sent some English china: 
“melons and leaves for a dessert of fruit and cream, or the like; a 
bowl remarkable for the neatness of the figures, made at Bow near 
this city; some coffee cups of the same; a Worcester bowl, ordinary. 
To show the difference of workmanship, there is something from 
all the china works in England; and one old true china basin 
mended, of an odd colour. The same box contains four silver salt 
ladles, newest but ugliest fashion; a little instrument to core apples; 
another to make little turnips out of great ones; six coarse diaper 
breakfast cloths: they are to spread on the tea table, for nobody 
here breakfasts on the naked table, but on the cloth set a large tea 
board with the cups. There is also a little basket, a present from 
Mrs. Stevenson to Sally, and a pair of garters for you, which were 
knit by the young lady, her daughter, who favoured me with a pair 
of the same kind, the only ones I have been able to wear; as they 
need not be bound tight, the ridges in them preventing their slip- 
ping. We send them therefore as a curiosity, for the form more 
than for the value. Goody Smith may, if she pleases, make such for 
me hereafter, and they will suit her own fat knees. My love to her." 

He sent, further, carpet “for a best room floor" which he had 
thought of himself, and bedticks, blankets, tablecloths, napkins, 
and sheeting which Deborah had ordered. “There is also fifty-six 
yards of cotton printed curiously from copperplates, a new inven- 
tion, to make bed and window curtains; and seven yards chair 
bottoms, printed in the same way, very neat. These were my fancy; 
but Mrs. Stevenson tells me I did wrong not to buy both of the 

CHAPTER 12 Presents for Home 277 

same colour. Also seven yards o£ printed cotton, blue ground, to 
make you a gown. I bought it by candle-light, and liked it then, 
but not so well afterwards. If you do not fancy it, send it as a 
present from me to sister Jenny. There is a better gown for you, of 
flowered tissue, sixteen yards, of Mrs. Stevenson's fancy, cost nine 
guineas; and I think it a great beauty." 

Then there were steel snuffers, snuff-stand, and extinguishers, 
music William had bought for his sister, and two sets of books her 
father sent her: the World and the Connoisseur. The silk blankets 
were “of a new kind, were just taken in a French prize, and such 
were never seen in England before; they are called blankets, but 
I think will be very neat to cover a summer bed, instead of a quilt 
or counterpane, I had no choice, so you will excuse the soil on 
some of the folds; your neighbour Forster can get it off. I also 
forgot, among the china, to mention a large fine jug for beer, to 
stand in the cooler. I fell in love with it at first sight; for I thought 
it looked like a fat jolly dame, clean and tidy, with a neat blue and 
white calico gown on, good-natured and lovely, and put me in 
mind of — somebody." And there was a whole box of table glass of 
various sorts. He was buying a set of china, silver -handled knives 
and forks, and silver candle-sticks; “but these I shall keep here to 
use till my return, as I am obliged sometimes to entertain polite 
company." The harpsichord he had planned to buy for Sally, for 
forty guineas, he had given up on the advice of a musical friend, 
who told him a new one could never be depended on, “though 
made by the best hands." It was not the cost that mattered to the 
indulgent father. He paid forty-two guineas for the harpsichord he 
bought in June. 

On 30 November he was well enough to go to the Royal Society's 
feast, and then frequently by coach to the White Lion, to Mon- 
tague House where the British Museum had recently been in- 
stalled, and to the houses of his friends. Before Christmas he had 
hired a coach of his own for twelve guineas a month. “I found that 
every time I walked out I got fresh cold; and the hackney coaches 
at this end of the town, where most people keep their own, are the 
worst in the whole city, miserable, dirty, broken, shabby things, 
unfit to go into when dressed clean, and such as one would be 
ashamed to get out of at any gentleman's door."^® In his com- 

£78 Benjamin Franklin London 

fortable lodgings with the friendly Mrs. Stevenson and her daugh- 
ter, with his promising, dashing son, with his servant Peter who 
soon learned the town well enough to go on errands anywhere, 
with the slave King who waited incompetently on William and 
ran away after a year, Franklin settled down in a household not 
too much unlike that in Philadelphia. Strahan wrote to Deborah 
Franklin urging her to come over. Her husband was sure she 
would never in any circumstances cross the ocean. Nor did he 
insist. First he expected to return to America the following spring. 
Then he thought his work would take a summer, then a year. It 
was five years before he set out for home. After a few months he 
was as much at home in London as anywhere. 

Now, while the Penns and the lawyers procrastinated, Franklin 
had a year or so of something like philosophic leisure. He had 
brought with him, or devised in London, the most powerful elec- 
tric machine ever seen there. Lord Charles Cavendish and others 
judged that the spark it threw was nine inches long. A copy was 
owned by Lord Morton.^^ Franklin on 21 December 1757 wrote 
out for John Pringle, who had already produced his classic treatise 
on military medicine and sanitation and was to be president of the 
Royal Society, an account of the effects of electricity on paralytics 
in Pennsylvania. never knew any advantage from electricity in 
palsies that was permanent. And how far the apparent temporary 
advantage might arise from the exercise in the patients’ journey, 
and coming daily to my house, or from the spirits given by the 
hope of success, enabling them to exert more strength in moving 
their limbs, I will not pretend to say.”^^ Franklin invented a curi- 
ous clock, economical but not quite practical, which a new friend, 
James Ferguson, improved in 1758 to Franklin’s generous satisfac- 
tion.^^ He was on the friendliest terms with John Canton, who first 
in England had got lightning from the sky. Franklin bought elec- 
trical equipment for Harvard, and himself took pains to prepare it 
and to furnish careful instructions.^^ 

In May 1758 he went to Cambridge with his son, and there per- 
formed experiments in evaporation with John Hadley, professor 
of chemistry. Using ether instead of spirits on the ball of Hadley’s 
thermometer, they got the temperature down to twenty-five degrees 
below freezing. “From this experiment,” Franklin wrote to John 

CHAPTER 12 Evaporation 9.19 

Lining in Charleston on 17 June, “one may see the possibility oi 
freezing a man to death on a warm summer’s day, if he were to 
stand in a passage through which the wdnd blew briskly, and to be 
wet frequently with ether.” Franklin’s mind ranged over the sub- 
ject. In India, he had heard, they kept water cool by evaporation. 
“Even our common sailors seem to have had some notion of this 
property; for I remember that, being at sea when I was a youth, 
I observed one of the sailors, during a calm in the night, often 
wetting his finger in his mouth and then holding it up in the air, 
to discover, as he said, if the air had any motion and from which 
side it came; and this he expected to do by finding one side of his 
finger grow suddenly cold, and from that side he should look for 
the next wind; which I then laughed at as a fancy.” 

Franklin remembered the hot Sunday at Philadelphia in July 
1750. “When the thermometer was up at 100 in the shade, I sat in 
my chamber without exercise, only reading or writing, with no 
other clothes on than a shirt and a pair of long linen drawers, the 
windows all open, and a brisk wind blowing through the house; 
the sweat ran off the backs of my hands, and my shirt was so often 
wet as to induce me to call for dry ones to put on. . . . But . . * 
my body never grew so hot as the air that surrounded it or the 
inanimate objects immersed in the same air. . . . May not this be 
a reason why our reapers in Pennsylvania, working in the open 
field in the clear hot sunshine common in our harvest time, find 
themselves well able to go through that labour without being much 
incommoded by the heat while they continue to sweat, and while 
they supply matter for keeping up that sweat by drinking fre- 
quently of a thin evaporable liquor, water mixed with rum; but if 
the sweat stops, they drop, and sometimes die suddenly if a sweat- 
ing is not again brought on by drinking that liquor, or, as some 
rather choose in that case, a kind of hot punch made of water 
mixed with honey and a considerable proportion of vinegar?” Per- 
haps Negroes sweat more than white men and so could bear the 
sun’s heat better; “if that is a fact, as it is said to be.” Might not 
even the earth itself, under the summer sun, be cooled by evapora- 
tion? “To these queries of imagination, I will only add one prac- 
tical observation: that wherever it is thought proper to give ease in 
cases of painful inflammation in the flesh (as from burnings or the 

280 Benjamin Franklin London 

like) by cooling the part, linen cloths wet with spirit and applied 
to the part inflamed will produce the coolness required better than 
if wet with water and will continue it longer.”^° 

Franklin enjoyed his visit to Cambridge so much that, “as all the 
great folks were out of town and public business at a stand,’' he 
went back for commencement early in July. He and his son “were 
present at all the ceremonies, dined every day in their halls, and 
my vanity was not a little gratified by the particular regard showed 
me by the chancellor and vice-chancellor of the University and the 
heads of colleges.” From Cambridge, after commencement, the 
Franklins set out for Northampton, to visit, like so many later 
Americans, the homes of their forefathers. At Wellingborough 
they found Mary Fisher, a daughter of Thomas Franklin, who 
remembered when Josiah Franklin and his family left for New 
England. The American Franklins went to Ecton, where the Eng- 
lish Franklins had lived so long on their small freehold. “The land 
is now added to another farm, and a school kept in the house. It is 
a decayed old stone building, but still known by the name of 
Franklin House.” The rector of the parish showed them the parish 
register, “in which were the births, marriages, and burials of our 
ancestors for two hundred years, as early as his book began.” The 
rector’s wife showed them the Franklin gravestones in the church- 
yard, “which were so covered with moss that we could not read the 
letters till she ordered a hard brush and basin of water with which 
Peter scoured them clean, and then Billy copied them.” Then the 
father and son went to Birmingham and looked up Deborah’s 
relations, who were in even a smaller way than the Franklins.^® 
John Baskerville, the fine printer in Birmingham, interested the 
plain printer from Philadelphia. Franklin, who the year before 
had sent the Baskerville Virgil as a gift to Harvard, now put the 
name of Isaac Norris in the list of subscribers to the Baskerville 

In London again in September he heard that two of his old 
Junto friends had died: Stephen Potts, who had remained a book- 
binder, and William Parsons, who had become surveyor-general. 
“Odd characters, both of them,” Franklin wrote to Hugh Roberts, 
who had sent the news. “Parsons a wise man that often anted fool- 
ishly; Potts a wit that seldom acted wisely. If enough were the 


A Happy Constitution 

means to make a man happy, one had always the means of happi- 
ness without ever enjoying the thing; the other had always the 
thing without ever possessing the means. Parsons even in his pros- 
perity always fretting; Potts in the midst of his poverty always 
laughing. It seems, then, that happiness in this life rather depends 
on internals than externals; and that, besides the natural effects of 
wisdom and virtue, vice and folly, there is such a thing as a happy 
or an unhappy constitution.”^'^ In December Franklin, who had as 
happy a constitution as any in the world, was busy with the art 
and science of chimneys. He had reduced the opening of his fire- 
place in Craven Street to three feet by two and had invented an 
iron frame with a sliding plate which acted as a draught, with the 
result that he got more heat from less fuel. ‘'Several of my acquaint- 
ance, having seen this simple machine in my room, have imitated 
it in their own houses, and it seems likely to become pretty com- 
mon.” The effect of chimneys upon ventilation, he thought, had 
been too little studied.^^ 

In January 1758 the odd rumour got back to Boston that Frank- 
lin had been made a baronet and governor of Pennsylvania. A 
more appropriate honour came on 12 February 1759 when the 
University of St. Andrews conferred on him the degree of doctor 
of laws, and gave him the only title he ever had. Three of his best 
friends in London — Strahan, Fothergill, and Pringle — ^were Scots, 
and later in that year he made a long and happy tour in Scotland. 
Most of his letters for 1759 have been lost, and the scant records 
tell little but that he was made burgess and guildbrother of Edin- 
burgh on 5 September and one day the same month had supper at 
the house of William Robertson with Adam Smith, William Cul- 
len, Alexander Carlyle, and other men of learning unnamed. 
By Edinburgh standards Franklin seemed reserved that evening, 
less sociable than his son, who was with them. But Franklin knew 
that this was a notable year in Scotland. David Hume, the 
acutest thinker in Great Britain, keeper of the Advocates' Library 
in Edinburgh, in 1759 published the third and fourth volumes of 
his history of England; Robertson, soon to become principal of the 
University, his history of Scotland; Adam Smith, still professor at 
Glasgow, his Theory of the Moral Sentiments. Franklin was a 
moralist and thought history the most useful of moral studies. And 

£82 Benjamin Franklin londoi^ 

there were scientists in Edinburgh. Cullen, professor of chemistry, 
had made important experiments on the production of cold by 
evaporation. Franklin and his son visited Sir Alexander Dick, 
president of the College of Physicians, at Prestonfield. John Ander- 
son, professor of natural philosophy at Glasgow, accompanied the 
travellers through Perth to St. Andrews where Dr. Franklin re- 
ceived his diploma. At St. Andrews one of the students, Lord 
Cardross, was sick with a fever. His doctor prescribed that he be 
blistered, Franklin, asked for an opinion, advised against it. 
Cardross, later the earl of Buchan, always insisted that Franklin 
had probably saved his life.^^ 

The closest friendship which Franklin brought away from his 
journey to Scotland was with Lord Karnes, judge of session in 
Edinburgh, the man whose life Boswell — ^with his genius for recog- 
nizing character — wanted most to write after Johnson’s. In Berwick 
on their way tc London the Franklins stopped at Karnes for several 
days, and their host and hostess went with them part of their way 
to York. Franklin, back in London at the end of the year after 
some weeks in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, still regretted that he 
had not urged Lord and Lady Karnes to come further. “Our con 
versation,” he wrote foi himself and his son, “till we came to York 
was chiefly a recollection of that we had seen and heard, the 
pleasure we had enjoyed, and the kindnesses we had received in 
Scotland, and how far that country had exceeded our expectations 
On the whole, I must say I think the time we spent there was six 
weeks of the densest happiness I have met with in any part of my 
life; and the agreeable and instructive society we found there in 
such plenty has left so pleasing an impression on my memory that, 
did not strong connexions draw me elsewhere, I believe Scotland 
would be the country I should choose to spend the remainder of 
my days in.'’ 

And to Karnes, in the same letter, Franklin turned aside from 
friendly compliments to speak for a moment of his imperial vision. 
“I have long been of opinion that the foundations of the future 
grandeur and stability of the British Empire lie in America; and 
though, like other foundations, they are low and little seen, they 
are nevertheless broad and strong enough to support the greatest 
political structure human wisdom ever yet erected.”^^ 


Pennsylvania Propaganda 



Only William Pitt among the men in power in England had this 
imperial vision, and Pitt was carrying on an enormous war in India 
and Europe as well as in America. “I made several attempts,’’ 
Franklin later wrote, “to be introduced to Lord Chatham (at that 
time first minister) on account of my Pennsylvania business, but 
without success. He was then too great a man, or too much occu- 
pied in affairs of greater moment.”^^ To Pitt, Franklin was merely 
the agent of a remote colony squabbling with its proprietors. 
Arthur Onslow, Speaker of the House of Commons, saw that the 
liberties of Englishmen were possibly at stake, but Charles Yorke, 
the solicitor-general, stood for the prerogative of the proprietors as 
well as of the Crown. “You may conjecture,” Franklin wrote to 
Isaac Norris on 19 March 1759, “what reception a petition con- 
cerning privileges from the colonies may meet with from those who 
think that even the people of England have too many.”-^ Charles 
Pratt, the attorney-general, was friendly though discreet, but he 
saw trouble ahead. Some day, he told Franklin during 1758, the 
Ameiicans for all they said of their loyalty and affection would set 
up for independence. Franklin insisted that “no such idea was ever 
entertained by the Americans, nor will any such ever enter their 
heads, unless you grossly abuse them.” That, Pratt said, might well 
happen and bring the outcome he foresaw.^^ 

While waiting for an answer from the proprietors, Franklin did 
more than wait. Besides talking with everybody he saw who might 
have influence, he turned to the press, about which he knew so 
much, to get at public opinion, with which he was so expert. He 
aimed, he wrote to the Assembly on 10 June 1758, at “removing 
the prejudices that art and accident have spread among the people 
of this country against us, and obtaining for us the good opinion 
of the bulk of mankind without doors.”^^ In the first days of his 
illness in September 1757 he had William write a letter to the 
Citizen in refutation of the anonymous abuses of Pennsylvania 
which had appeared, and which Franklin believed came from the 
proprietors. He paid a potmd to have the letter printed. As soon as 

284 Benjamin Franklin London 

he was well he planned a book which should cover the whole 
ground of the quarrel: An Historical Review of the Constitution 
and Government of Pennsylvania, William “furnished most of the 
materials,” James Ralph had a hand in preparing it for the press, 
and Strahan printed it, at Franklin’s expense. Franklin “looked 
over the manuscript, but was not permitted to alter everything I 
did not wholly approve.” “It was wrote,” he told Norris on 9 June 
1759, “by a gentleman said to be one of the best pens in England, 
and who interests himself in the concerns of America, but will not 
be known.”^® The man was Richard Jackson, an English lawyer 
who wrote secretly because he was hoping to become a member of 
Parliament through the favour of the ministry and did not want to 
run the risk of alienating them. The book was nearly ready by 
June 1758, but was held up for about a year. 

In the meantime there were other colonial incidents. William 
Moore, who had a brother in the House of Commons and had been 
appointed by the proprietors to be justice of the peace in Chester 
County, was arrested in January 1758 by the sergeant-at-arms of 
the Pennsylvania Assembly on the charge that he had libelled 
them, and William Smith, provost of the Academy, at the same 
time for aiding Moore. They spent three months in jail, where 
Smith taught his classes. After their release by order of the supreme 
court, Smith carried their case to London, where he arrived in 
January 1759. He argued that the Quakers had prosecuted him 
and Moore, both good Churchmen, because they had urged the 
need of defence in Pennsylvania, and that the Assembly did not 
have the constitutional right to punish libel. While he waited for 
his hearing before the attorney-general and the solicitor-general, 
Smith talked everywhere bitterly against the Quakers. They were, 
he said, persecuting Churchmen to avenge themselves on Thomas 
Penn, wtxo had ceased to be a Quaker. Fellow-Churchmen quickly 
took Smith’s side, and skirmished to get him the degree of doctor 
of divinity from Oxford on the recommendation of the Archbishop 
of Canterbury and five other bishops. This he was given in March, 
six weeks after Franklin, a dissenter, had received his Scottish 
degree. Smith was as bitter against Franklin as against the Quakers. 
He did not deserve, Smith said, even his reputation as a scientist, 
but had stolen his ideas about electricity from Ebenezer Kinnersley 

SHAPTER The Case of the Delawares 28d 

in Philadelphia. Though Franklin was angry and fought bark, he 
had the better temper and had a philosophical last word when, 
four years later, he wrote: “I made that man my enemy by doing 
him too much kindness. ’Tis the honestest way of acquiring an 
enemy. And, since ’tis convenient to have at least one enemy, who 
by his readiness to revile one on all occasions may make one careful 
of one’s conduct, I shall keep him an enemy for that purpose.”^^ 
But in June 1759 the Privy Council ruled that the Assembly, in 
punishing the libels, had unwarrantably assumed powers which 
did not belong to them. 

The proprietors came off less well in the matter of the Delawares. 
With the help of certain Quakers, and under the leadership of 
Tedyuskung, the Delawares, now officially at peace with Pennsyl- 
vania, had settled on the Susquehanna in the Wyoming district. 
The Penns claimed the land. Tedyuskung asked to see their title 
deeds. At the council held at Easton in July-August 1757 Tedyus- 
kung had had a clerk, Charles Thomson, and his minutes did not 
read the same as the proprietors’. The Assembly sent Thomson’s 
record to Franklin, asking him to consult the ministry. Thomas 
Penn saw Granville and Halifax, also a member of the Privy 
Council, and misrepresented the facts to them. Franklin changed 
their opinions. At the hearing before the Board of Trade on 15 
May 1759 Franklin asked the proprietors to show their deeds to 
the Board. They protested, thinking he did not know the contents, 
and saying he wanted them only to pick holes. He surprised Penn, 
and Paris, by producing copies of the deeds and freely turning 
them over to Halifax. The Board took the case out of the hands 
of the proprietors and referred it to Sir William Johnson of New 
York, superintendent of the Six Nations under the Crown, who 
allowed the Delawares to stay at Wyoming, 

Steadily, adroitly, Franklin harried the proprietors. Before the 
hearing on the Delawares he had published Thomson’s Enquiry 
into the Causes of the Alienation of the Delaware and Shawonese 
Indians from the British Interest, and before the hearing on Smith 
and Moore, the Historical Review, Penn was furious. "*When I 
meet him anywhere,” Franklin told Isaac Norris on 9 June, “there 
appears in his wretched countenance a strange mixture of hatred, 
anger, fear, and vexation.”^® The Historical Review contained a 

286 Benjamin Franklin London 

passage which must have cut the Penns like poisoned knives. ''And 
who or what are these proprietaries? In the province, unsizable 
subjects and unsufficient lords. At home, gentlemen it is true, but 
gentlemen so very private that in the herd of gentry they are 
hardly to be found; not in court, not in office, not in Parliament.”^^ 
Though Jackson had written this, the Penns supposed the insult 
came from Franklin, as well as the whole treatise which, polemically 
but powerfully, condemned their government of Pennsylvania. 
They were rather ordinary men, fairly conscientious, who had had 
a great deal of trouble with their province and derived by no 
means so much income from it as was commonly thought. With 
the prejudices of their class, they thought of themselves as owning 
Pennsylvania, with no more responsibility toward it than they 
might be pleased to feel. And here they were being bullied in the 
name of liberty, as it seemed to them, not only by the contuma- 
cious Assembly but also by the crafty, incessant man of genius who 
had come to London to turn public opinion against them and take 
away their prerogative. 

The Assembly did not bother to discuss the answer which the 
Penns made them, through the governor not Franklin, in February 
1759. Denny assented in April to a money bill for £100,000 which 
at last levied taxes on the lands of the proprietors. He was not sued 
on his bond, as he and governors before him had been afraid to be, 
but he left his office and entered the British army. The bill was 
sent to England for the royal assent, and the Penns opposed it. The 
Privy CounciPs Committee for Plantation Affairs in June 1760 
reported against it as "manifestly offensive to natural justice, to 
the laws of England, and to the royal prerogative.” Franklin, in- 
tending soon to leave for Ireland and then Scotland again, was 
kept in England all summer. Though he had never met Pitt, and 
knew of Pitt’s imperious temper, Franklin boldly wrote to him, 
adding an audacious postscript as from one man to another, 
"Between you and I, it is said that we may look upon them all to 

be a pack of d d r ^Is, and that unless we bribe them all 

higher than our adversaries can do, and condescend to every piece 
of dirty work they require, we shall never be able to attain common 
justice at their hands.”^® He ran his pen through the postscript, but 
left it legible. 

CHAPTER 12 A Compromise 287 

The proprietors contended that if they were put at the mercy 
of the province’s assessors they would be ruined. Franklin and his 
lawyers pointed out that the £100,000 had been issued as paper 
money which was now in general circulation, and that to repeal 
the bill and make the paper worthless would ruin the province. 
Finally Lord Mansfield, chief justice and member of the Privy 
Council, at one of the hearings “rose and, beckoning me, took me 
into the clerk’s chamber while the lawyers were pleading, and 
asked me if I was really of opinion that no injury would be done 
to the proprietary estate in the execution of the act. I said cer- 
tainly. ‘Then,’ says he, ‘you can have little objection to enter into 
an engagement to assure that point.’ I answered: ‘None at all.’ He 
then called in Paris, and after some discourse his lordship’s proposi- 
tion was accepted on both sides.”®^ On 28 August the Committee 
for Plantation Affairs reported in favour of the act, if it should be 
amended as Franklin engaged, for the Assembly, it would be. The 
essential provisions of the compromise were that the unsurveyed 
lands of the proprietors should not be taxed and their surveyed 
lands be taxed at no higher rate than other lands of the same kind. 
The act went before the king in council on 2 September and was 
allowed. On the whole the proprietors thought compromise better 
than repeal. To the Assembly Franklin’s compromise seemed their 
triumph. What the Penns had to pay the first year was only about 
one-fiftieth of the total sum raised by taxation. The money was less 
than the principle. The Assembly had won, what they had long 
claimed, the right to tax all the property in the province, with no 
feudal exemption for the True and Absolute Proprietaries. The 
king himself paid taxes in England. 

Franklin and his son left London about the middle of Septem- 
ber, for Coventry, where they were on the 27th, then planning to 
go to Cheshire, Wales, Bristol, and fashionable Bath. Little 
further is known about their tour except that Franklin says they 
visited Liverpool and Glasgow and in Birmingham he made 
some electrical experiments with Matthew Boulton.^^ In London 
by the middle of November, Franklin made no move to return to 
Philadelphia. On the death in March 1759 of Richard Partridge, 
one of Franklin’s associates in the agency, Franklin had asked that 
Richard Jackson, soon to be elected to Parliament for the con- 


Benjamin Franklin 

joint borough of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis, be appointed 
chief agent. There would be both advantage and prestige for the 
province in having a member of the House to represent them. 
Jackson was willing, but not the Assembly. Franklin remained in 
London, official agent for Pennsylvania and more and more the 
unofficial voice of America. 


Brilliantly directed by Pitt, the war in America had changed the 
face of colonial affairs. Duquesne and Louisbourg were taken from 
the French in 1758, and in September 1759 Wolfe captured Que- 
bec. The whole of Canada submitted in 1760. Franklin set himself 
at once to work to convince both authorities and public in Britain 
that Canada must be permanently English. Already there had 
been pamphlets in London on whether Canada should be kept or 
Guadeloupe, which also had been taken from the French. Canada 
seemed to many Englishmen no better than a hopeless wilderness. 
Guadeloupe was a sugar island in the comparatively rich and popu- 
lous West Indies. Franklin entered the argument with another 
pamphlet, The Interest of Great Britain Considered with Regard 
to her Colonies and the Acquisitions of Canada and Guadeloupe 
written with possibly some help from Richard Jackson and pub- 
lished in London by May or June 1760. To it was added Franklin’s 
earlier Observations concerning the Increase of Mankind. What- 
ever Jackson contributed, the imperial vision was Franklin’s. 
Canada must be English so that the English colonies could be 
secure. But this was not solely a colonial problem. The colonies 
were the western frontier of the British Empire. To secure them 
was to secure the Empire, to the benefit of all its people. 

Now on a larger stage Franklin said very much what he had 
written in Philadelphia in 1751 and published in Boston in 1755. 
Given territory enough, the English in America would multiply 
till they would soon be more numerous than those in Europe. Such 
an increase to the nation could not be neglected. It meant riches, 
power, and splendour. There was no danger, as some men in Eng-* 
land thought, that the colonies would drain off the population of 


JVo JFaves without Wind 


the mother country. The seed of the English was already planted 
in America and would grow of itself, without further emigration. 
Nor was there a danger that the colonies would become, as some 
men in England feared, rivals to the English in manufactures. 
Where land was free and easy to get, the people would remain agri- 
cultural, even though the Americans in some centuries might num- 
ber a hundred million. This would be an immense outlet for 
British industry, and British ships would carry British goods. 
Canada, as a part of the continental system, had a future which 
Guadeloupe could not have. As to the chance that the colonies 
might some day revolt and become enemies of England, that was a 
prospect too remote and unlikely to be thought of. “If they could 
not agree to unite for their defence against the French and Indians, 
who were perpetually harassing their settlements, burning their 
buildings, and murdering their people; can it reasonably be sup- 
posed there is any danger of their uniting against their own nation, 
which protects and encourages them, with which they have so many 
connexions and ties of blood, interest, and affection, and which 
’tis well known they all love much more than they love one an- 
other? ... I will venture to say an union amongst them for such 
a purpose is not merely improbable, it is impossible; and if the 
union of the whole is impossible, the attempt of a part must be 
madness; as those colonies that did not join the rebellion would 
join the mother country in suppressing it. 

“When I say such an union is impossible, I mean without the 
most grievous tyranny and oppression. People who have property 
m a country which they may lose, and privileges which they may 
endanger, are generally disposed to be quiet, and even to bear 
much rather than hazard all. While the government is mild and 
just, while important civil and religious rights are secure, such 
subjects will be dutiful and obedient. The waves do not rise but 
when the winds blow.’’^^ 

If there was in this a note of warning, Franklin did not intend it, 
for he had still no thought of the British government as “tyranny 
and oppression.'’ He believed that England misunderstood America 
and the true relations between them, but he believed that all the 
misunderstandings could be cleared up by the reasonable argu- 
ments which he had to offer. His pamphlet was published the same 

290 Benjamin Franklin London 

year in Dublin, Boston (by his nephew Benjamin Mecom), and 
Philadelphia, and had second editions the year following in Boston 
and London. It is supposed to have had some influence, and at 
least the treaty of Paris did return Guadeloupe to France and keep 
Canada for the English. But the influence of an unofficial philos- 
opher is always hard to trace. In Craven Street and at the Pennsyl- 
vania Coffee House, at many other houses and other clubs, Frank- 
lin talked steadily, quietly, persuasively, and charmingly about 
America: the need of winning it entirely from the French, of 
allowing it to flourish without British interference with its trade, 
of thinking of it as part of the Empire not as detached and depend- 
ent colonies, of extending to it the ancient rights of Englishmen, 
He was himself his own best argument. '‘America,’' Hume wrote 
to Franklin, "has sent us many good things, gold, silver, sugar, 
tobacco, indigo, etc.; but you are the first philosopher, and indeed 
the first great man of letters, for whom we are beholden to her.”^® 
No British contempt or indifference could easily hold out against 
an American who in any company had to be taken as an equal for 
knowledge, wit, and charm. 

Though his friends knew that he was Deputy Postmaster-General 
for the colonies, they seldom thought about it. He was merely 
another of the many men who, in the comfortable manner of the 
age, held American offices but lived in England. When Hunter 
died in iy6i Franklin was continued in office with John Foxcroft 
of Virginia as his colleague. The two were jointly appointed in 
October. Nor did Franklin’s philosophical friends know much 
about his domestic life in Craven Street. Always a man who moved 
in various circles of acquaintance, he was likely to keep them 
reticently separate. Mrs. Stevenson’s house became Franklin’s little 
court, where he amiably made the laws but was himself pliable to 
the women: Margaret Stevenson almost his sister, Mary almost his 
daughter. He encouraged a match between Mary Stevenson and 
William, but it came to nothing. The "hard-to-be-governed pas- 
sion of youth” which had driven Franklin to obscure intrigues in 
Philadelphia drove William to the same courses in London, and 
early in 1760 some unknown woman bore him an illegitimate 
son who was called William Temple. Whatever the philosopher’s 

CHAPTER 12 To Belgium and Holland £91 

disappointment, he serenely accepted his grandson and in time 
took him into his own household. 

From November 1760 to August 1762 Franklin seems to have 
kept close to London, except during August-September 1761 
when he went with William on a short visit to Belgium and Hol- 
land. They marvelled at the churches in Ghent and Bruges, and 
the cosmopolitan born in Boston reflected that religion could be 
more agreeable than he had been brought up to realize- “When I 
travelled in Flanders,” he afterwards wrote to Jared Ingersoll in 
Connecticut, “I thought of your excessively strict observation 
of Sunday; and that a man could hardly travel on that day among 
you upon his lawful occasions without hazard of punishment; 
while, where I was, every one travelled, if he pleased, or diverted 
himself in any other way; and in the afternoon both high and low 
went to the play or the opera, where there was plenty of singing, 
fiddling, and dancing. I looked round for God’s judgments, but 
saw no signs of them. The cities were well built and full of inhab- 
itants, the markets filled with plenty, the people well favoured and 
well clothed, the fields well tilled, the cattle fat and strong, the 
fences, houses, and windows all in repair, and no Old Tenor 
anywhere in the country; which would almost make one sus- 
pect that the Deity is not so angry at that offence as a New England 

In Brussels the scientist was welcomed by the Prince of Lorraine 
and shown his physics laboratory. In Leyden Franklin visited with 
Musschenbroek, whose electric bottle the American had under- 
stood better than its discoverer. (Musschenbroek the year before 
had drawn up a list of all the important European writings on 
electricity and sent it to Franklin in London.) At The Hague the 
Franklins dined with the British ambassador, who was Joseph 
Yorke, brother of the solicitor-general already known to the agent 
from Pennsylvania. And in Amsterdam Franklin, as he wrote his 
wife from Utrecht on 14 September, “met with Mr. Crellius and 
his daughter that was formerly Mrs. Neigh; her husband. Dr. 
Neigh, died in Carolina, and she is married again and lives very 
well in that city. They treated us with great civility and kind- 
ness.”®'’’ The travellers were back in London in time for the corona- 

£92 Benjamin Franklin London 

tion of George III, whom Franklin saw as a virtuous, generous 
young king. 

Now, if Franklin had really desired it and had been a more 
systematic moralist, he might have written his Art of Virtue, 
planned as early as 1732 in the days when he was aiming at per- 
fection. *'The materials have been growing ever since,'' he wrote to 
Lord Karnes in November 1761. ‘‘The form only is now to be 
given; in which I purpose employing my first leisure, after my 
return to my other country."^® But he found it more pleasant to be 
a philosopher than to write philosophy, and he put off finishing, or 
even beginning, his little treatise. He amused himself with grave 
hoaxes. Somewhere he came upon a story about tolerance which 
has been traced back to the Persian of Sadi’s Bustan, and which 
apparently entered English in Jeremy Taylor's Liberty of Proph- 
esying. Franklin turned the story into Biblical language as A Para- 
ble against Persecution,^^ and, having memorized it, used to pre- 
tend to read it from the fifty-first chapter of Genesis. He had it 
printed and bound up in his own Bible to prove that it was gen- 
uine, Only his close friends were in the secret. To the Chronicle 
some time in 1760 Franklin sent what he said was an extract from 
a book written in 1629 by a Spanish Jesuit.^^ In a chapter Of the 
Means of Disposing the Enemie to Peace the imaginary author 
advised the king of Spain to spread propaganda in England by 
hiring Englishmen to speak and write against the further con- 
tinuance of the war which Spain was waging. This, Franklin 
implied, was what tire king of France was possibly now doing. In 
an enlightened age, Franklin said he was sure, the British would 
not be tricked but would go on to a safe, advantageous, and hon- 
ourable peace — that is, though he did not say it, till America could 
be rid of the French. 

In these two years of relative leisure Franklin's mind ranged 
widely if casually through the fields of speculation. With the poets, 
dramatists, novelists, and general men of letters he was little ac- 
quainted. The age of Pope and Swift had passed. Fielding had died 
in 1754, Richardson died in 1761. The age of Johnson, Boswell, 
Goldsmith, Sterne, Burke, Gibbon had not yet taken form. Edin- 
burgh was on the whole as eminent in literature as London. To 


JsTew Words 


Hume in Edinburgh Franklin wrote a letter on literary matters. 
He had sent Hume the pamphlet on Canada and Guadeloupe, and 
Hume, answering that he had now changed his mind about 
America, admonished the American on points of usage. Franklin 
on 27 September 1760 thanked him for the serviceable admonition. 
'‘The 'pejorate’ and the 'colonize,’ since they are not in common 
use here, I give up as bad; for certainly in writings intended for 
persuasion and for general information one cannot be too clear; 
and every expression in the least obscure is a fault. The 'unshak- 
able’ too, though clear, I give up as rather low. The introducing 
new words, where we are already possessed of old ones sufficiently 
expressive, I confess must be generally wrong, as it tends to change 
the language; yet at the same time I cannot but wish the usage of 
our tongue permitted making new words, when we want them, by 
composition of old ones whose meanings are already well under- 
stood. The German allows of it, and it is a common practice with 
their writers. Many of our present English words were originally 
so made; and many of the Latin words. In point of clearness such 
compound words would have the advantage of any we can borrow 
from the ancient or from foreign languages. For instance, the word 
‘inaccessible,’ though long in use among us, is not yet, I dare say, 
so universally understood by our people as the word 'uncomeata- 
ble’ would immediately be, which we are not allowed to write. 
But I hope, with you, that we shall always in America make the 
best English of this island our standard, and I believe it will be so. 
I assure you it often gives me pleasure to reflect how greatly the 
audience (if I may so term it) of a good English writer will, in 
another century or two, be increased by the increase of English 
people in our colonies.”^^ 

Of the three words Franklin promised to give up, two — "col- 
onize” and "unshakable” — ^have lived down all conservative ob- 
jections. He was surer in his practice than in his doctrine. Hume, 
questioning Franklin’s vocabulary, accepted his prophecy, and 
seven years later urged Gibbon to write in English not in French. 
"Our solid and increasing establishments in America, where we 
needlessly dread the inundation of barbarians, promise a superior 
stability and duration to the English language.” Gibbon answered 

294 Benjamin Franklin londoit 

that he did not aim “to instruct or amuse our posterity on the 
other side of the Atlantic ocean/’ but he wrote his great history 
in English.^^ 

Franklin wrote to Hume in detail about the “shortest and 
simplest method of securing buildings, etc., from the mischiefs of 
lightning.”^^ Hume turned the letter over to the Philosophical 
Society in Edinburgh, and it was read before them and published 
among their transactions. To Sir Alexander Dick and to Lord 
Karnes, Franklin wrote about the improvement of fireplaces and 
the cure of smoky chimneys. He explained to Alexander Small his 
theory of the origin of north-east storms, discussed legible typog- 
raphy with John Baskerville, reported to Ebenezer Kinnersley on 
recent developments in electricity, made notes on his own experi- 
ment in melting powdered amber, and commented on the nature 
of fire and the source of the rock salt found in mines. His most 
engaging scientific observations were in the letters he wrote to 
Mary Stevenson. 

Whether or not Franklin’s match-making and William’s son had 
anything to do with it, the girl had left Craven Street by May 1759 
to live with an aunt at Wanstead in Essex. At her own suggestion, 
Franklin agreed on 1 May 1760 to make natural philosophy the 
regular subject of their correspondence. “But why will you,” he 
asked her, “by the cultivation of your mind make yourself still 
more amiable and a more desirable companion for a man of under- 
standing when you are determined, as I hear, to live single? If we 
enter, as you propose, into moral as well as natural philosophy, 1 
fancy when I have fully established my authority as a tutor I shall 
take upon me to lecture you a little on that chapter of duty.” In 
the meantime, he advised her to read the books he should recom- 
mend to her and write him her observations or questions.^^ 

Her first question was about the working of the barometer, and 
her first observation on the usefulness of insects. Franklin, replying 
on 1 1 June, put in a sly sentence which it probably amused him to 
think she would not catch, but he was otherwise sober enough. 
“Superficial minds are apt to despise those who make that part of 
the creation [insects] their study, as mere triflers; but certainly the 
world has been much obliged to them. Under the care and man- 
agement of man, the labours of the little silkworm afford employ- 

CHAPTEE 12 Philosophy for a Girl 9.9 B 

merit and subsistence to thousands of families and become an 
immense article of commerce. The bee, too, yields us its delicious 
honey, and its wax useful to a multitude of purposes. Another 
insect, it is said, produces the cochineal from whence we have our 
rich scarlet dye. The usefulness of the cantharides, or Spanish flies, 
in medicine is known to all, and thousands owe their lives to that 
knowledge. By human industry and observation other properties 
of other insects may possibly be hereafter discovered, and of equal 
utility. A thorough acquaintance with the nature of these little 
creatures may also enable mankind to prevent the increase of such 
as are noxious, or secure us against the mischiefs they occasion.” 
He went on to tell her what he had heard from “a Swedish gentle- 
man of good credit” about how Linnaeus had safeguarded timber 
against ship-worms. But once more Franklin warned her not to let 
her scientific curiosity make her forget her common duties. “Nich- 
olas Gimcrack . . . who neglected his family to pursue butterflies, 
was a just object of ridicule, and we must give him up as fair game 
to the satirist.”*^^ 

During the summer Polly — ^as she was usually called — ^wrote to 
Franklin from Bristol to ask him why the water at that place, 
though cold at the spring, became warm by pumping. “It will be 
most prudent in me to forbear attempting to answer,” he said on 
13 September, “till by a more circumstantial account you assure 
me of the fact. I own I should expect that operation to warm, not 
so much the water pumped, as the person pumping.” But he did 
not want to seem to snub or tease her, and he said that he had 
learned from a woman, in one of Selden’s books, not “to give 
reasons before one is sure of facts.” The letter which followed was 
the longest and the most technical of the series, on tides in rivers. 
Franklin realized that he had perhaps lost sight of his reader in his 
own interest in the theme, and he ended with an exquisite apology. 
“After writing six folio pages of philosophy to a young girl, is it 
necessary to finish such a letter with a compliment? Is not such a 
letter of itself a compliment?”^® 

Of all the matters he discussed with her, the most original was 
his experiment to test the effect of the sun’s heat on clothing. “Since 
I cannot find the notes of my experiment to send you I must give it 
as well as I can from memory. ... I took a number of little 

296 Benjamin Franklin London 

square pieces of broadcloth from a tailor’s pattern card, of various 
colours. There were black, deep blue, lighter blue, green, purple, 
red, yellow, white, and other colours or shades of colours. I laid 
them all out upon the snow in a bright sunshiny morning. In a 
few hours (I cannot now be exact as to the time) the black, being 
warmed most by the sun, was sunk so low as to be below the stroke 
of the sun’s rays; the dark blue almost as low, the lighter blue not 
quite so much as the dark, the other colours less as they were 
lighter; and the quite white remained on the surface of the snow, 
not having entered it at all. 

''What signifies philosophy that does not apply to some use? 
May we not learn from hence that black clothes are not so fit to 
wear in a hot sunny climate or season as white ones? . . . That 
soldiers and seamen, who must march and labour in the sun, 
should in the East or West Indies have an uniform of white? That 
summer hats, for men or women, should be white, as repelling 
that heat which gives headaches to many and to some the fatal 
stroke that the French call the coup de soleilY'^'^ Here, a century 
before Europeans learned generally to wear light-coloured cloth- 
ing in the tropics, Franklin pointed out the manifest advantage 
of it, with the simplest kind of experiment to prove his point. 

If it was like Franklin to put some of his acutest observations 
into affectionate letters to a girl of twenty-one, so was it like him 
to take the hand he took in a pamphlet, now exceedingly rare, on 
smallpox by William Heberden. Heberden, the first to describe 
angina pectoris, was a distinguished doctor in London whom 
Franklin met soon after he arrived. Talking together about small- 
pox, Franklin told Heberden of inoculation as practised in Boston 
and Philadelphia. Then Franklin persuaded Heberden to write, 
in the midst of many interruptions. Some Account of the Success 
of Inoculation for the Small-Pox in England and America To^ 
gether with Plain Instructions^ by Which Any Person May Be 
Enabled to Perform the Operation and Conduct the Patient 
through the Distemper (1759). Heberden had it printed at his own 
expense — Strahan was the printer — and to the eight pages of the 
pamphlet Franklin added four more as a preface.^® He sent 1500 
copies to David Hall in Philadelphia to be given away. There was 


A Musical Invention 


no longer any doubt, he said in his preface, as to the value of 
inoculation. But ‘'scruples of conscience weigh with many con- 
cerning the lawfulness of the practice; and if one parent or near 
relation is against it, the other does not choose to inoculate a child 
without free consent of all parties, lest in case of a disastrous event 
perpetual blame should follow. These scruples a sensible clergy 
may in time remove. The expense of having the operation pen 
formed by a surgeon weighs with others, for that has been pretty 
high in some parts of America; and when a common tradesman or 
artificer has a number in his family to have the distemper, it 
amounts to more money than he can well spare.” This pamphlet, 
Franklin thought, might teach poor parents how to inoculate their 
own children. Heberden, desiring no personal credit, had not 
signed his name. Franklin, afraid a nameless physician might be 
disregarded, divulged it in the preface. 

On 13 July 1762 Franklin, about to leave Europe, wrote a fare- 
well letter to Beccaria in Turin, thanking him for his support of 
Franklin’s electrical opinions. “I wish I could in return entertain 
you with anything new of mine on that subject; but I have not 
lately pursued it. Nor do I know of anyone here that is at present 
much engaged in it. Perhaps, however, it may be agreeable to you, 
as you live in a musical country, to have an account of the new 
instrument lately added here to the great number that charming 
science was before possessed of. As it is an instrument that seems 
peculiarly adapted to Italian music, especially that of the soft and 
plaintive kind, I will endeavour to give you such a description of 
it, and of the manner of constructing it, that you or any of your 
friends may be enabled to imitate it, if you incline to do so, with- 
out being at the expense and trouble of the many experiments I 
have made in endeavouring to bring it to its present perfection.” 
The new instrument was based upon the musical glasses invented 
by Richard Puckeridge [Pockrich] in 1743. ‘‘He collected a num- 
ber of glasses of different sizes, fixed them near each other on a 
table, and tuned them by putting into them water, more or less as 
each note required. The tones were brought out by passing his 
fingers round their brims. He was unfortunately burnt here, with 
his instrument, in a fire which consumed the house he lived in 

£98 Benjamin Franklin London 

[1759]. Mr. E. [Edmund Hussey] Delaval, a most ingenious mem- 
ber of our Royal Society, made one in imitation of it, with a better 
choice and form of glasses, which was the first I saw or heard.’' 

Franklin may or may not have known that the musical glasses 
(Glasspiel) were already much used in Germany, and that Gluck 
himself had played a concerto of his own on them, with full orches- 
tral accompaniment, in London as early as 1746. The instrument 
came to Franklin’s knowledge through the Royal Society, and 
Franklin was a scientist as well as a lover of music. ‘‘Being charmed 
by the sweetness of its tones and the music he produced from it, I 
wished only to see the glasses disposed in a more convenient form, 
and brought together in a narrower compass, so as to admit of a 
greater number of tunes and all within reach of hand to a person 
sitting before the instrument.” Instead of using beer glasses set on 
a table, Franklin had special glasses blown in the shape of hem- 
ispheres, with a hole in the middle, the largest glass nine inches 
in diameter and the smallest three. From them he chose thirty- 
seven, “which are sufficient for three octaves with all the semi- 
tones,” and tuned them by grinding as it was needed, “often trying 
the glass by a well-tuned harpsichord.” Then he mounted them on 
an iron spindle running through the holes in their centres, the 
largest glass at one end of the spindle and each next smaller one 
partly within the larger but not touching it. This spindle was laid 
horizontal in a long case on four legs, something like a harpsichord. 
The player, sitting before the instrument, revolved the spindle 
with a treadle like that on a spinning-wheel, and touched the edges 
of the moving glasses with his fingers. “The advantages of this 
instrument are that its tones are incomparably sweet beyond those 
of any other; that they may be swelled and softened at pleasure by 
stronger or weaker pressures of the finger, and continued at any 
length; and that the instrument, being once well tuned, never 
again wants tuning. In honour of your musical language,” Frank- 
lin concluded his letter to Beccaria, “I have borrowed from it the 
name of this instrument, calling it the armonica.”^^ 

The harmonica — as it came generally to be spelled — ^had a sud- 
den vogue that lasted for years. Copies of tne instrument were 
made in London, on Franklin’s specifications, and sold for forty 
guineas. Marianne Davies gave public performances on the har- 

CHAPTER 12 The Harmonica in Two fForlds 9.99 

monica in England early in 1762, travelled with it to Italy, and 
introduced it to the imperial court at Vienna, where Gluck was 
now chapel-master, and Marie Antoinette became one of her 
pupils. Metastasio composed an ode which was sung by Cecilia 
Davies at a royal wedding, while Marianne played on the “nuovo 
istrumento di musica . , . inventata dal celebre Dottore Frank- 
lin.”^® By December 1764 the harmonica had got to Philadelphia, 
and was for the first time heard in public at the Assembly Room in 
Lodge Alley. More was made of the instrument in Germany and 
Austria than elsewhere. Franklin was long as famous among Ger- 
man musicians for his harmonica as among German electricians for 
his lightning rod. There were virtuosos celebrated for their skill 
on the harmonica, and various mechanical improvements, adap^ 
tations, and imitations. Mozart and Beethoven, not to mention 
lesser men, composed music for it. Then the vogue as suddenly 
ceased, about 1800, with no reason given except that the vibration 
of the glasses harrowed the nerves of the performers.^^ 

Because the harmonica has become obsolete Franklin is seldom 
thought of in connexion with music, but he both delighted in it 
and thought clearly and critically about it. At the Junto he had 
taken his turn in singing, and had written words for familiar airs. 
Somehow or other, sooner or later, he found time to learn to play 
the harp, the guitar, and the violin, as well as the harmonica, with 
which he pleased his friends in London and Paris, One of his 
earliest acquaintances in London on this visit was John Stanley, 
organist to the Society of the Inner Temple. Now, after so many 
years of business and science and politics and war, in the midst of 
diplomacy, the philosopher was free to choose his satisfactions. 
Music was high among them. Nothing he wrote between 1757 and 
1762, no experiment he undertook and carried out, absorbed him 
more happily than his musical invention. 

By January 1762 Franklin had determined to return to Phila* 
delphia the coming summer, though, since England was still at 
war with France, he would have to wait for a safe convoy. He had 
stayed longer than his errand needed, and he could not help being 
restless in even the most entertaining leisure. He had of course not 
yet become the public figure he was to be on his second mission to 
England. His postmastership and his agency were little posts in 

300 Benjamin Franklin London 

the great world, and his reputation as philosopher and person had 
not spread far beyond the circle of his friends. But, while he waited 
for a convoy, Oxford on 22 February voted that Franklin should 
be given the degree of doctor of civil laws honoris causa whenever 
he should be pleased to visit the university. He came the end of 
April and at a convocation on the 30th the illustrious Benjamin 
Franklin, Esquire, Agent of the Province of Pennsylvania at the 
Court of His Most Serene Majesty, Postmaster-General of North 
America, and Fellow of the Royal Society (Ornatissimus Vir 
Benjaminus Franklin Armiger, Provincice Pensylvanice Deputatus, 
ad Curiam Serenissimi Regis Legatus^ Tabellariorum per Amer- 
icam Septentrionalem Prcefectus Generalise necnon Regies Societa- 
tis Socius) was admitted to the degree, and William Franklin at the 
same time to the degree of master of arts. William Smith, doctor 
of divinity for three years and recently arrived from Philadelphia, 
that month wrote an angry letter to the president of St. John’s 
College. The letter reached Franklin, and he and Smith met at 
Strahan’s house, where Smith agreed that he had been misinformed 
and rancorous and promised to write another letter withdrawing 
his charges. He did not write it, but spread the news in London 
and Oxford that Franklin had lost many of his friends in Phila- 

Franklin’s friends in England could hardly let him go. Strahan 
two years before had formally proposed a marriage between his 
son and Franklin’s daughter, and Franklin had sent the proposal 
to his wife. She refused to cross the ocean or to part with Sally. 
That plan of Strahan’s to hold Franklin fell through. Now Strahan 
used every further plan and argument he could think of. But, 
Franklin wrote him on 2c July, 'T feel here like a thing out of its 
place, and useless because it is out of its place. How then can I any 
longer be happy in England? You have great power of persuasion, 
and might easily prevail on me to do anything; but not any longer 
to do nothing. I must go home.”®^ Yet still Franklin wavered. In 
that same letter he said he was leaving London for ever. Three days 
later he admitted that Strahan’s ‘'almost irresistible eloquence” 
was “secretly supported and backed by my own treacherous inclina- 
tions.”®^ On 23 August, writing from Portsmouth where he had 
gone to take his ship, he yielded still more. “The attraction of 

CHAPTER 12 Return to Philadelphia SOI 

reason is at present for the other side of the water, but that of 
inclination will be for this side. You know which usually prevails. 
I shall probably make but this one vibration and settle here for 
ever. Nothing will prevent it if I can, as I hope, prevail with 
Mrs. F. to accompany me, especially if we have a peace.’'®^ But his 
ship sailed almost at once, '1 am going,’* he wrote to Lord Karnes, 
‘'from the old world to the new; and I fancy I feel like those who 
are leaving this world for the next: grief at the parting; fear of the 
passage; hope of the future. These different passions all affect their 
minds at once; and these have tendered me down exceedingly.”®® 

"We had a long passage near ten weeks from Portsmouth to 
this place,” he reported to Strahan from Philadelphia, "but it was a 
pleasant one; for we had ten sail in company and a man-of-war to 
protect us; we had pleasant weather and fair winds, and frequently 
visited and dined from ship to ship; we called too at the delightful 
island of Madeira, by way of half-way house, where we replenished 
our stores and took in many refreshments. It was the time of their 
vintage, and we hung the ceiling of the cabin with bunches of fine 
grapes which served as a dessert for dinner for some weeks after- 
wards. The reason of our being so long at sea was that, sailing with 
a convoy, we could none of us go faster than the slowest, being 
obliged every day to shorten sail or lay by till they came up. This 
was the only inconvenience of our having company, which was 
abundantly made up to us by the sense of greater safety, the mutual 
good offices daily exchanged, and the other pleasures of society.”®'^ 

And also to Strahan: "I got home well the first of November, 
and had the happiness to find my little family perfectly well, and 
that Dr. Smith’s reports of the diminution of my friends were all 
false. My house has been full of a succession of them from morning 
to night ever since my arrival, congratulating me on my return 
with the utmost cordiality and affection. My fellow-citizens, while 
I was on the sea, had at the annual election chosen me unani- 
mously, as they had done every year while I was in England, to be 
their representative in Assembly, and would, they say, if I had not 
disappointed them by coming privately to town, have met me with 
five hundred horse.”®® 

William Franklin had not come with his father. Before the 
convoy sailed the son had been appointed governor of New Jersey, 

302 Benjamin Franklin London 

by Lord Halifax, president of the Board of Trade, at the request 
of Lord Bute, secretary of state and favorite minister of George III. 
The new governor was married in September to Elizabeth Downes, 
born in the West Indies. There is no good reason to doubt that 
the ministry had in mind that if Franklin’s son were a governor, 
Franklin might be more tractable to the governor, and the pro- 
prietors, of Pennsylvania. Thomas Penn believed he would. 



H appy as he was to be at home again, Franklin could not 
help missing England, which had more learning, wit, and 
elegance than Pennsylvania, and had known how to pay more 
pleasing honours to the philosopher than his own province did. 
“Of all the enviable things England has,” Franklin wrote to Mary 
Stevenson on 25 March 1763, “I envy it most its people. Why 
should that petty island, which compared to America is but like a 
stepping-stone in a brook, scarce enough of it above water to keep 
one's shoes dry; why, I say, should that little island enjoy in almost 
every neighbourhood more sensible, virtuous, and elegant minds 
than we can collect in ranging a hundred leagues of our vast 
forests? But 'tis said the arts delight to travel westward. You have 
effectually defended us in this glorious war, and in time you will 
improve us. After the first cares for the necessaries of life are 
over” — ^Franklin had used almost the same words in his proposal 
for the American Philosophical Society twenty years before — ‘‘we 
shall come to think of the embellishments. Already some of our 
young geniuses begin to lisp attempts at painting, poetry, and 
music.”^ He sent her, and other English friends, various specimens 
of American verse which he hoped might find favour in England. 
He thought he would himself soon follow them. “In two years at 
farthest,” he wrote to Strahan on 7 December 1762, “I hope to 
settle all my affairs in such a manner as that I may then con- 
veniently remove to England — ^provided we can persuade the good 
woman to cross the seas.”^ 

The conflict with the proprietors had made Franklin fresh 
enemies in Philadelphia, who spread the news that he had lived 
extravagantly in England and wasted public money. But in Feb 
ruary, rendering his account to the Assembly, Franklin charged 


S 04 ? Benjamin Franklin 

them with only ^^714 lOi*. 7^. of the £1^00 that had been voted 
for his use. They allowed him the sum charged for expenses, let 
him keep the /'1500 voted, and added as much more; that is, 
£2,000 for his five years. His enemies could not call this extrava- 
gance. His friends in the Assembly realized how much he had done 
in England, and on 19 February they resolved that the Speaker, 
from the chair, should thank their agent ‘"^as well for the faithful 
discharge of his duty to this province in particular as for the many 
and important services done to America in general.’’ His personal 
friends continued to welcome him. Catherine Ray, now Catherine 
Greene, wrote eagerly from Rhode Island, inviting him to visit 
her. They seem not to have kept up their correspondence while 
he was in England, though she had written occasional letters to 
Deborah Franklin. In January Franklin promised Catherine that 
if he went to New England the next summer, as he planned, he 
would not fail to stop at Warwick on his way. 

William Franklin came back to America in February and took 
up his office as governor of New Jersey. In spite of some resent- 
ment, he made friends with almost his father’s ease. He was 
escorted to Perth Amboy, alternately with Burlington the capital, 
by many of the gentry in sleighs and by the Middlesex troop of 
horse,, and was greeted with congratulatory addresses by the cor- 
porations of towns, the college (Princeton), and the clergy. Frank- 
lin looked on with lively satisfaction. am just returned,” he 
wrote to Strahan on 28 March, ‘'^ffom a journey 1 made through 
his government, and had the pleasure of seeing him received 
everywhere with the utmost respect and even affection of all ranis 
of people.”^ The governor fixed his residence at Burlington, Where 
his father, a runaway apprentice, forty years before had caught a 
chance boat for the last stage of his journey to Philadelphia. 

Much of Franklin’s first year in America was given up to the 
affairs of the post office. Now that Canada was English, some' Sort 
of postal communication between New York and Montreal and 
Quebec had to be arranged, and a better schedule of packets to 
carry the mails between England and the colonies. The mails, for 
the first time in America, were made to travel nrght and day from 
Phifaddphfa to New York and back, and later thJe same service 

CHAPTER 13 Travels North and South 305 

was extended to Boston, FrankKn inspected post offices from 
southern Virginia to eastern New England. In April and May 
1763 he spent three or four weeks in Virginia, where he met his 
new colleague John Foxcroft. In June Franklin was in New York. 
On the way from Philadelphia he had attended a public dinner 
given for his son and his wife in Elizabethtown (Elizabeth). In 
New York Frankhn’s time was taken up with Cadwallader Golden, 
now governor, Lord Stirling (William Alexander), and Jeffery 
Amherst, commander-in-chief of the British forces in America and 
sinecure governor of Virginia. They talked, presumably, of the 
new outbreak among the western Indians, whom Amherst wanted 
to exterminate. 

Sally Franklin, almost twenty, joined her father in New York, 
and the two went to New England together. Before they got to 
Warwick, or while they were there, Franklin had a fall from his 
horse, and Catherine Greene tenderly nursed him. Sally would 
have liked to stay longer, but her father’s plans would not allow it. 
When they left for Providence, and Boston, the Greenes accom- 
panied them part of the way, as Lord and Lady Karnes had accom- 
panied Franklin and William on the road toward York. Catherine 
urged her guests to stop again on their return. But Franklin, on a 
trip to Portsmouth or back, early in September had another fall 
and dislocated his shoulder. am not yet able to travel rough 
roads,” he wrote to Catherine on the 5th, ‘‘and must lie by awhile, 
as I can neither hold reins nor whip with my right hand till it 
grows stronger.”^ Three weeks later he was still in Boston, his arm 
still painful. About the first of November he was in Philadelphia, 
resting from sixteen hundred miles of travel. The daughter of Sir 
Alexander Dick in Edinburgh had sent Sally some Scottish songs, 
and Franklin and his daughter delighted in them. “She sings the 
?!ongs to her harpsichord, and I play some of the softest tunes on 
my armonica, with which entertainment our people here are quite 
charmed, and conceive the Scottish tunes to be the finest in the 

Benjamin Franklin 




The treaty of Paris in February 1763 made peace between Eng- 
land and France but not between the colonists and the Indians. If 
anything, the Indians were worse off than before. While the war 
lasted they had been courted and bribed by both French and 
English, and furnished with guns, goods, and rum. Now, though 
the territory from the Alleghenies to the Mississippi was reserved 
to them, their supplies were suddenly cut oJff. Even the Six Nations 
were restless, and among the tribes that had been favourable to 
the French the summer of 1763 saw the general uprising which is 
classically, if not quite accurately, called the conspiracy of Pontiac, 
who was chief of the Ottawa. French traders told the Indians that 
the English occupation was only temporary, and encouraged them 
to keep up their raids. The Indians could see for themselves that 
the frontier forts were grufHy held by the English, and rightly 
guessed that more and more settlers would follow the soldiers, take 
up the land, and drive the hunters off. Whether organized by 
Pontiac or acting independently, the western Indians attacked the 
English on the long front from Detroit to Fort Pitt. These two 
posts held out, but during May and June every other garrison west 
of Niagara was surprised and massacred. The Indians were des- 
perate in the face of extinction, and went to all lengths in 
the savage cruelty which was their rule of warfare. Nor were the 
English much behind them. General Amherst, who had cut off the 
Indian supplies, suggested, perhaps before the uprising, that blan- 
kets inoculated with smallpox might be sent among the Indians 
“to extirpate this execrable race,” and he thought well of the 
scheme to hunt them down with dogs. 

If the British commander-in-chief could entertain these ruthless 
plans, it is no wonder that the actual frontiersmen made war as 
furiously as the Indians. With the forts on the Ohio taken, war 
parties again, as after Braddock’s defeat, ravaged the whole of 
Pennsylvania as far east as the Conococheague valley and the Blue 
mountains. Carlisle and Shippensburg were filled with refugees. 
James Smith, who had been captured by the Indians while work- 



The ConeSloga Indians 

ing on Braddock's road and had lived among them for four years, 
formed a company of volunteer defenders who called themselves 
the Black Boys and, naked and painted, ranged the Conococheague 
district in Cumberland County. In Lancaster County certain 
Scotch-Irish settlers of Paxton and Donegal townships, Presbyterian 
fanatics who called themselves the Paxton Boys, turned their fury 
against the friendly Indians living at peace within the province. 
The Indians under the protection of the Moravians near Bethle- 
hem were safely moved to Philadelphia. But in December fifty or 
more of the Paxton Boys fell upon the quiet village of the Cones- 
toga Indians near Lancaster and murdered the six they found at 
home. The remaining fourteen, who had been away selling their 
baskets, brooms, and bowls among the neighbouring whites, were 
collected by the sheriff and lodged in the workhouse at Lancaster, 
The rioters two days after Christmas broke open the workhouse 
and put old and young to the hatchet; “then,” according to Frank- 
lin, “mounted their horses, huzza’d in triumph as if they had 
gained a victory, and rode off — unmolested.” 

John Penn, governor since November, issued two proclamations 
ordering the arrest of the criminals and offering a reward. Nothing 
came of it. The people of Lancaster who were not terrorized ap- 
proved or excused the murders. The bloody mob grew into an 
army of several hundred men that moved on Philadelphia, citing 
Scripture to justify their furious purpose to wipe out the Moravian 
Indians. The frontier counties cherished old and bitter grievances. 
The capital, they thought, coldly and selfishly neglected them. 
Three companies of regular troops, the Royal Americans, had been 
called from Cumberland to Philadelphia to guard the Indian 
refugees, at a time when other Indians were murdering whole 
families in Cumberland. Indians were Indians, the rioters said, 
with vendetta logic. “Who ever proclaimed war,” two of their 
spokesmen asked, “with part of a nation, and not with the whole?” 
The Moravian Indians had plotted with the enemy and were as 
guilty as any. Yet the government was doing more for them than 
for its own people on the border. The expedition under Colonel 
Bouquet, then being planned, was not against the enemy on the 
nearer frontier, but against the Indians at the forks of the Muskin- 
gum in Ohio. (The rioters could not see that it was the best 

SOS Benjamin Franklin londoJI 

strategy to strike at the distant towns which were the source of all 
the raiding parties ) The Scotch-Irish blamed the Quakers for their 
long weakness — kindness — toward the Indians, and accused them 
even now of profitably trading with the savages. The five back 
counties had only ten members in the Assembly as against twenty- 
six from the three home counties and Philadelphia. Helpless in 
the legislature, the frontier had taken to arms, the rebels said. And 
they demanded a bounty for scalps. The lack of that encourage- 
ment had ‘‘damped the spirits of many brave men” who would 
otherwise have invaded the enemy country. 

There was enough raw reason in their claims to divide public 
opinion. The eastern Presbyterians were inclined to side with 
them, some of the more righteous Churchmen, the Indian-hating 
rabble, and, it was suspected, Penn and his Council, out of pro- 
prietarial animosity toward the Quakers. Franklin, more open to 
true reason than any other man in Pennsylvania, saw that, what- 
ever else the rising was, it was first of all riot and murder. In 
January he wrote his warm and moving Narfative of the Late 
Massacres in Lancaster County.^ 

He began with the most intimate simplicity, as if he were taking 
up a topic already on everybody’s tongue — as it was. “These In- 
dians were the remains of a tribe of the Six Nations settled at 
Conestoga and thence called Conestoga Indians. On the first 
arrival of the English in Pennsylvania, messengers frorh this tribe 
came to welcome them, with presents of venison, corn, and skins; 
and the whole tribe entered into a treaty of friendship with the 
first proprietor, William Penn, which was to last ‘as long as the 
sun should shine or the waters run in the rivers.’ ” Most of the 
surviving members of the tribe had English names, and Franklin 
gave the names and characters of half of them. He told the story 
of the two massacres in plain, unsparing words. “There are some 
(I am ashamed to hear it),” he went on, “who would extenuate 
the enormous wickedness of these actions by saying: ‘The inhabit^ 
ants of the frontiers are exasperated with the murder of their 
relations by the enemy Indians in the present war/ It is possible. 
But though this might justify their going out into the woods, to 
seek for those enemies and avenge upon them those murders, it 
can never justify their turning into the heart of the country fo 


CHAPTER IS The Massacres in Lancaster County 

murder their friends. If an Indian injures me, does it follow that I 
may revenge that injury on all Indians? It is well known that 
Indians are of different tribes, nations, and languages, as well as 
the white people. In Europe, if the French, who are white people, 
should injure the Dutch, are they to revenge it on the English, 
because they too are white people? The only crime of these poor 
wretches seems to have been that they had a reddish-brown skin 
and black hair; and some people of that sort, it seems, had mur- 
dered some of our relations. If it be right to kill men for such a 
reason, then, should any man with a freckled face and red hair kill 
a wife or child of mine, it would be right for me to revenge it by 
killing all the freckled red-haired men, women, and children I 
could afterwards anywhere meet with.’'^ 

Here in terms of everyday experience he answered the argu- 
ments of the Paxton Boys. He went through history to find exam- 
ples of hospitality and mercy, among Greeks, Turks, Arabs, Moors, 
Spaniards, Negroes, and Indians themselves. beg that I may not 
be understood as framing apologies for all Indians. I am far 
from desiring to lessen the laudable spirit of resentment in my 
countrymen against those now at war with us, so far as is justified 
by their perfidy and inhumanity. I would only observe that the 
Six Nations, as a body, have kept faith with the English ever since 
we knew them, now near an hundred years; and that the governing 
part of those people have had notions of honour, whatever may be 
the case with the rum-debauched, trader-corrupted vagabonds and 
thieves on the Susquehanna and Ohio, at present in arms against 
us.’"" The Conestoga Indians who had been murdered, and the 
Moravian Indians who were threatened, had been charged with 
numberless crimes: ^^all which stories are well known, by those 
who know the Indians best, to be pure inventions, contrived by 
bad people either to excite each other to join in the murder or, 
since it was committed, to justify it; and believed only by the 
weak and credulous.’® What had old Shehaes, so old he had been 
present at Penn’s treaty in 1701, done that he should have been 
cut to pieces in his bed? ^^What could he or the other poor old 
men and women do? What had little boys and girls done? What 
could children of a year pld, babes at the breast, what eouJd they 
do that they fyoo mmt be shot md hatcheted? And in thefr parents’ 

310 Benjamin Franklin London 

arms! This is done by no civilized nation in Europe. Do we come 
to America to learn and practise the manners of barbarians? But 
this, barbarians as they are, they practise against their enemies 
only, not against their friends. . . . 

'‘Unhappy people, to have lived in such times and by such neigh- 
bours!” They would have been safe among the ancient heathen, 
the Turks, the Saracens, the Moors, the Spanish, the Negroes. “In 
short, it appears they would have been safe in any part of the 
known world except in the neighbourhood of the Christian white 
savages of Peckstang and Donegal!” 

The pamphlet made Franklin more enemies than friends, but it 
helped discredit the rioters in Philadelphia, where many citizens 
besides the Quakers resolved that the Moravian Indians should 
not be murdered or the city invaded. In the panic that filled the 
people as the rioters approached, Franklin kept his head. Another 
governor had to turn to the philosopher — also one of the com- 
missioners for defence — to ask his aid in defending the city. 
Franklin organized another Association, “signed . . . first myself, 
and was followed by several hundreds who took arms accordingly. 
The governor offered me the command of them, but I chose to 
carry a musket and strengthen his authority by setting an example 
of obedience to his order.” Besides the three companies of regular 
soldiers, there were eight of the Associators and a battery of artil- 
lery. The governor asked the Assembly for a riot act, and it was 
drawn, voted, and made a law the same day: 3 February. On the 
6th and 7th there was no quorum in the Assembly. On the 8th 
the Speaker and fifteen members met and at once adjourned, “the 
city being suddenly alarmed by a report that a number of rioters 
were approaching in a hostile manner.” The governor, much as he 
hated Franklin, “did me the honour, in an alarm, to run to my 
house at midnight, with his councillors at his heels, for advice, and 
made it his headquarters.”'^ The rioters, finding the ford over the 
Schuylkill guarded, turned north, crossed the river at another ford, 
and came boisterously to Germantown, eight or ten miles from 
Philadelphia. There they halted, and Franklin, at the request of 
the governor, went out with three other men to meet them. “The 
fighting face we put on and the reasonings we used with the insur- 
gents . . , turned them back and restored quiet to the city.”*^ By 



John Penn and George HI 

the 11th they had been dispersed. '‘And within £our-and-twenty 
hours/' Franklin wrote to Fothergill in London on 14 March, 
“your old friend was a common soldier, a councillor, a kind of 
dictator, an ambassador to a country mob, and, on his returning 
home, nobody again."^ The grandson of William Penn proclaimed 
a bounty for Indian scalps, male or female. 

The whole episode made the antagonism between Franklin and 
John Penn complete. Franklin told Fothergill that Penn’s con- 
duct — “his dropping all inquiries after the murderers and his 
answering the disputes of the rioters privately,” and his insults to 
the Assembly — ^had brought “him and his government into sudden 
contempt. All regard for him in the Assembly is lost. All hopes of 
happiness under a proprietary government are at an end.” And 
Penn on 5 May wrote to his uncle Thomas: “There will never be 
any prospect of ease and happiness while that villain [Franklin] 
has the liberty of spreading about the poison of that inveterate 
malice and ill nature which is deeply implanted in his own black 


Absorbed in war and politics in Pennsylvania, Franklin for a 
year had little time to give to what was happening in London. No 
man is always a prophet, and Franklin at the end of 1763 still had 
romantic notions about George III. “You now fear for our virtuous 
young king,” said a letter to Strahan on 19 December, “that the 
faction forming will overpower him and render his reign uncom- 
fortable. On the contrary, I am of opinion that his virtue and the 
consciousness of his sincere intentions to make his people happy 
will give him firmness and steadiness in his measures and in the 
support of the honest friends he has chosen to serve him; and 
when that firmness is fully perceived, faction will dissolve and be 
dissipated like a morning fog before the rising sun, leaving the rest 
of the day clear with a sky serene and cloudless.”^^ 

But when the firm king’s honest friend George Grenville in the 
following March had announced the new programme for taxing 
the colonies and regulating their trade, including the Stamp Act 

^12 Benjamin Franklin lqndoiv 

as then proposed, Franklin saw injustice and danger at once. ‘'Our 
opinions or inclinations/’ he wrote to Collinson on 30 April, “if 
they had been known, would perhaps have weighed but little 
among you. We are in your hands as clay in the hands of the 
potter; and so in one more particular than is generally considered; 
for as the potter cannot waste or spoil his clay without injuring 
himself, so I think there is scarce anything you can do that may be 
hurtful to us but what will be as much or more so to you. This 
must be our chief security; for interest with you we have but little. 
The West Indians vastly outweigh us of the northern colonies. 
What we get above a subsistence we lay out with you for your 
manufactures. Therefore what you get from us in taxes you must 
lose in trade. The cat can yield but her skin. And as you must have 
the whole hide,* if you’ first cut thongs out of it ’tis at your own 
expense. . . * 

“Let me tell you a piece of news that, though it might displease 
a very respectable body among you, the button-makers, will be 
agreeable to yourself as a virtuoso. It is, that we have discovered a 
beach in a bay several miles round, the pebbles of which are all in 
the form of buttons, whence it is called Button Mould Bay. . . . 
But I think I must not mention this place, lest some Englishman 
get a patent for this button mine, as one did for the coal mine at 
Louisbourg,- and,« by neither suffering others to work it nor work- 
ing it himself, deprive Us of the advantage God and nature seeiii 
to' ha^re* intended us. As we have now got buttons, ’tis something 
towards our clothing;' and who knows but in time we may find out 
where to get cloth? — for as to our being always supplied hy you, 
’te folly to expect it. Only consider the rate of our increase, and 
tell me if you can Increase yoUr wool in that proportion, and where, 
in your little island,* you can feed the sheep. Nature has put bounds 
to your abilities, though none to yOur desires. Britain would, if 
Ae could, manufacture and trade for all the world; England for 
all Britain; LOndon for all England; and every Londoner for all 
London. So selfish is the human' mind. But ’tis well there is One 
above that rules these matters wdth a more equal hand. He that is' 
pleased tio* feed the ra^^eUs wifi undoubtedly take care to prevent a 
monopoly of the earrton.”^^ 

iSharply as“ Ftankfin here spOke of the coltTrUal pblicy Of the niW 

CHAPTER IS An Appeal to the Crown SIS 

ministers, he had nevertheless made up his mind that Pennsylvania 
would be better off in their hands than in the hands of the pro- 
prietors. The conflict between the Assembly and the governor had 
come at last to a breaking-point. After the riot the Assembly 
promptly passed a militia bill and a money bill, and the governor 
as promptly vetoed them. He insisted on appointing the militia 
officers himself, without allowing the men the share in choosing 
them which the bill provided. The money bill, he insisted, must 
contain the exact words of the provision of the Privy Council “that 
the located uncultivated lands belonging to the proprietaries shall 
not be assessed higher than the lowest rate at which any located 
uncultivated lands belonging to the inhabitants shall be assessed.” 
The Assembly objected to this strict construction, preferred to 
frame their bill in their language, and, whatever the Privy Council 
might have ruled, resented the claims of the proprietors to he. 
taxed at lower rates than other landowners. The bill went back and 
forth for a month without agreement. On 24 March the Assembly 
sent it to Governor Penn with a message, probably written by 
Franklin, in strong, insulting terms. If any ill consequences came 
from the delay at this crucial time, the message said, “they will 
undoubtedly add to that load of obloquy and guilt the proprietary 
family is already burdened with, and bring their government (a 
government which is always meanly making use of public distress 
to extort something from the people for its own private advantage) 
into (if possible) still greater contempt.” That same day the Assem- 
bly passed twenty-six resolutions, of which the last said that the 
Assembly would adjourn and consult their constituents as to 
“whether an hupible address should be drawn up and transmitted 
to his Majesty, praying that he would be graciously pleased to take 
the people of this province under his immediate protection and 

During the recess Franklin wrote his pamphlet Cool Thoughts 
on the Present Situation of Our Public Affairs, which on the night 
of 12 April was distributed by hand throughout the town. '‘Con- 
sidering all circumstances,” he said, “I am at length inclined to 
think that the cause of these miserable contentions is not to be 
sought for merely in the depravity and selfishness of human minds,. 
Fnt* though it is not unlikely that in these, as well as in other 

S 14 Benjamin Franklin London 

disputes, there are faults on both sides, every glowing coal being 
apt to inflame its opposite; yet I see no reason to suppose that all 
proprietary rulers are worse men than other rulers, nor that all 
people in proprietary governments are worse people than those in 
other governments. I suspect, therefore, that the cause is radical, 
interwoven in the constitution and so become of the very nature of 
proprietary governments; and will therefore produce its effects as 
long as such governments continue. And, as some physicians say 
every animal body brings into the world among its original stamina 
the seeds of that disease that shall finally produce its dissolution, 
so the political body of a proprietary government contains those 
convulsive principles that will at length destroy it.''^"^ 

There were not many cool thoughts in Pennsylvania. The pro- 
posed change had a revolutionary look to it, and feeling was vio- 
lent on both sides. The friends of the governor, the men who were 
officials under the proprietors or hoped to be, and the comfortable 
aristocracy of Philadelphia wanted the government to remain as it 
was. So did the Presbyterians, afraid a royal government might 
bring an established church, a bishop, and tithes. The Churchmen 
and the Germans were divided. The Quakers and the Moravians 
favoured the change. The leader of the opposition was John 
Dickinson, a young lawyer who admitted the evils of the pro- 
prietary rule but held there was no good reason to think — as there 
was not — that the ministry would send better governors than the 
proprietors had sent. Just now, Dickinson argued, when a new 
imperial policy threatened the colonies, Pennsylvania could not 
afford to give up the constitution which had long protected it. 
Franklin, urging the change, had for his lieutenant another young 
lawyer, Joseph Galloway, who had more or less taken Franklin’s 
place in the Assembly during his absence in England. Galloway 
seems to have believed with Franklin that George III, “who has 
no views but for the good of his people, will thenceforth appoint 
the governor, who, unshackled by proprietary instructions, will be 
at liberty to join with the Assembly in enacting wholesome laws.”^^ 
When the Assembly met again in May the governor was as ob- 
durate as ever, and the money bill for £55,000 had finally to be 
passed on his terms. The real business of the session was the peti- 
tion to the king to assume the government of the province. When 

CHAPTER 13 A Bitter Campaign 316 

the debate was at its angry height, Isaac Norris, whose daughter 
had married John Dickinson, resigned the office of Speaker which 
he had honourably held for fourteen years. Franklin was immedi- 
ately and unanimously elected to succeed him, on 26 May, and it 
was Franklin who as Speaker signed the petition, which he had 

Franklin, for years the spokesman for the Assembly, presided as 
Speaker for only the few days left in May and again during the 
short session in September. The members went to the constituents, 
and the campaign before the election of 1 October was noisy and 
venomous. Dickinson published his speech in the May debate as 
a pamphlet, with a preface by William Smith. Galloway published 
his, with a long preface by Franklin^'^ which was a powerful defence 
of the Assembly full of abrasive sarcasm aimed at its enemies. 
Smith had composed an elaborate epitaph, in the manner of the 
time, for William Penn, all of its complimentary phrases drawn, 
he said, from the minutes of the Assembly. Franklin composed an- 
other on the sons, 'hn the lapidary style*' and not complimentary, 
drawn mostly from the same minutes. He was answered in the 
anonymous pamphlet — one long epitaph — What Is Sauce for a 
Goose Is Also Sauce for a Gander ^ which, not content to accuse 
him of every public villainy, raked up the private scandal of his 
son's birth. The Germans were not allowed to forget that he had 
called them “Palatine boors," nor the Scotch-Irish of Paxton and 
Donegal townships that he had called them “Christian white 
savages." He was the target of cartoons, squibs in the newspapers, 
malicious tongues, none of which he then troubled himself to 
answer — though another anonymous pamphlet The Scribler 
praised him in the highest terms and savagely abused his enemies. 
(But Franklin found time to write a preface for Poor Richard 
Improved for 1765, in which he pointed out that if the British 
government laid new duties on American trade, Americans could 
go without British manufactures and supply themselves.^®) 

Franklin and Galloway, both candidates for seats from the city 
of Philadelphia, managed the campaign for their party, which was 
called the Old Ticket. On election day the polls were opened at 
nine in the morning, and the slow stream of voters crowded the 
high steps of the state house till nearly midnight. About three the 

S 16 Benjamin Franklin London 

next morning the managers of the New Ticket moved to close, but 
the Old Ticket would not agree. They still had a reserve of aged 
and crippled voters who could not come in a crowd but who now, 
between three and six, were brought in chairs and litters. The New 
Ticket men sent out for laggard citizens, as far away as German- 
town, and got more than the Old. The polls were closed at three 
in the afternoon, and when the votes were counted it was found 
that Franklin and Galloway had been beaten, by twenty-five votes 
among nearly four thousand. Charles Pettit, a spirited observer, 
wrote to Joseph Reed in London: "'Mr. Franklin died like a philos- 
opher. But Mr. Galloway agonized in death, like a mortal deist 
who has no hopes of a future existence.’'^^ 

Though the Old party lost Philadelphia, they had a majority 
in the Assembly, and in the next session they not only resolved, 
against vehement opposition, to present the petition to the king 
but also chose Franklin, on 26 October, to go as agent to manage 
the difficult affair with Richard Jackson, who had been agent for 
the province since Franklin’s return from England. The opposi- 
tion brought in a remonstrance against the choice, and Franklin 
answered them, on 5 November, in his Remarks on a Late Protest, 
He ended with a philosopher’s gesture, which he so well knew 
how to make disarming — and infuriating. "I am rlow to take leave 
(perhaps a last leave) of the country I love and in which I have 
spent the greatest part of my life. Esto perpetua. I wish every kind 
of prosperity to my friends; and I forgive my enemies.”^^ 

There was no money in the provincial treasury. The Assembly 
authorized a loan, and £1100 was raised by subscription within a 
few hours. Franklin would take only £500. As he had not hesitated 
to accept the appointment, neither did he delay his going. Deborah 
still refused to cross the ocean, and would not consent to sending 
Sally with him. Which he would have liked. He left behind him 
the new house being built for them on the south side of Market 
Street, between Third and Fourth. (It was thirty-four feet squate, 
the insurance survey noted, built of brick, three stories high, with 
three rooms to a floor and the kitchen in the cellar^ had two "largd 
painhouses with trusses at each end,’' and was insured in 1766 for 
Whatever he had said in his Remarks, he elcpecfed to be 
gone BO niore than a few months, not ten yedrl On 7 November 

CHAFTER isf Once More in England 317 

he set out for his ship at Chester, sixteen miles away, with three 
hundred friends on horseback. Galloway and two others stayed on 
board with him as far as New Castle. ‘'Tell our friends that dined 
with us on the turtle,'' he wrote to Deborah from the Isle of 
Wight on 9 December, “that the kind prayer they then put up for 
thirty days' fair wind for me was favourably heard and answered, 
we being just thirty days from land to land."^^ He went at once to 
London and Craven Street, where he found only a maid at home 
and surprised Margaret Stevenson when she came in. Back in 
Philadelphia the proprietary party kept up its abuse of him. When 
his friends heard that he had got safely to England, bells rang till 
midnight, healths were drunk, and Hugh Roberts of the Junto sat 
up late telling anecdotes of the forty years he had known Franklin. 


Authority on America 

A GAIN as in 1757 Franklin caught cold soon after he arrived 
jljL in London, and had a troubling cough that lasted into 
January. But before Parliament met on the loth as well as after- 
wards he was busy with his mission. It called for all the arts of 
strategy. The Penns had influence, and many politicians instinc- 
tively sided with the English proprietors as against the insubordi- 
nate Pennsylvanians. Richard Jackson, Franklin’s colleague, 
thought the Assembly’s move unwise. As a member of Parliament 
he knew its temper, and he was very close to Grenville, then head 
of the ministry. Jackson believed that the Penns in any case would 
not long be allowed to own and rule the province but would be 
required to sell it to the Crown, to be administered like the other 
colonies. It would be wiser to wait and let the change come of 
itself than to force the issue and so perhaps stir up a stubborn 
resentment. Jackson and Franklin had been instructed by the 
Assembly to be sure that the change, if granted, did not cost the 
people any of the liberties guaranteed them by their constitution . 

Franklin walked everywhere on eggshells. He had to lobby for 
the change without making concessions and yet without irritating 
the ministers. It was essential that he stand well with them. He 
wanted to keep his place in the post office, and he knew that the 
Penns were doing their best to get him dismissed. He had at the 
same time to further the petition and to resist the passage of the 
Stamp Act. If he pressed either point too hard he might have to 
yield on the other. Most of all, he was faithful to his imperial vision 
and his old desire to bring the separated parts of the Empire 
together in a friendly understanding. That at best would take time 
and have to be done, he thought, through the quiet courses of 

CHAPTER 14 . Outcry again§t the Stamp Adt SIS 

The Pennsylvania matter was lost in the larger issue. Though 
Franklin in February supposed he would be home by the end of 
summer, he found the Privy Council steadily indifferent or averse 
even to hearing the petition, which was not laid before them till 
November. Then they said the king had no power to interfere 
between proprietors and people. If this was partly a legal answer, 
it was also partly political. The outcry against the Stamp Act was 
at its height, and the ministry in no mood to let Americans say 
how they should be governed. The decision was postponed and the 
affair dragged on, intermittently, until after the Revolution, when 
Pennsylvania voted the Penns £130,000 and the British govern- 
ment settled on the head of the family an annual pension of 
£4000. During these ten years the Assembly's petition was among 
Franklin’s lesser troubles. 

The opposition to the Stamp Act absorbed him early and, again, 
iate in 1765. News of the proposal of March 1764 had reached 
Philadelphia while Franklin was still a member of the Assembly, 
and he knew the colonists felt that this was the wrong method for 
raising money in America. If British taxes were heavy on account 
of the recent war, so were American taxes. The Americans were 
willing to pay for their defence, but they wanted to be consulted 
and to vote the needed money in their assemblies as they had 
always done. Otherwise the Stamp Act would be a tax imposed 
upon them by a legislature in which they were not represented^ 
in plain violation of their ancient rights. In London Franklin 
found no understanding of the American attitude. The Parlia- 
mentary majority had thought less of upholding American rights 
than of reducing British taxes. Country squires, appalled by the 
national debt, had heard that the colonies were now rich, had 
come to hold that the colonies owed more than gratitude to the 
mother country for protecting them from the French, and had 
easily agreed that the colonies should be taxed without too much 
concern for their metaphysical objections. Grenville, brother-in- 
law to Pitt, took his budget seriously and had set himself to correct 
the laxity of colonial administration, especially in the customs. 
From London the American assemblies did not look so important 
as the Americans seemed to think them. After all there was only 
one Parliament, and while it might be policy to pay some attention 

820 Benjamin Franklin London 

to the notions of the little parliaments overseas, in the end the 
responsibility must be taken by the ministry in London. And back 
of these was George III, obstinately bound to be king of all his 
people, for what he considered their own good, and to draw even 
the remote Americans into the great circle of royal sway and order. 

Before bringing in the Stamp Act in February 1765 Grenville 
on the 2nd heard the protests of the colonial agents. He told them 
he had the task of managing the national revenue and he saw no 
better way of assigning Americans their rightful share than the 
present tax. Could the agents suggest one? Franklin thought the 
""^usual constitutional way"’ would be better; that is, through 
requisitions from the king and responsive votes from the assem- 
blies. Grenville asked whether the various assemblies would agree 
on the sum each colony should raise of the total. The agents could 
not promise that they would. Grenville said he believed that the 
Stamp Act would be a fair and equal tax. When the agents insisted 
that if Parliament taxed the colonies their assemblies might lose 
their importance and be neglected. Grenville answered that 
nothing of the sort was intended by the act. He must proceed with 
it, and he hoped the Americans would be moderate. They could 
not hope to gain anything from England by agitation. 

The Stamp Act was brought before the House of Commons and 
hardly debated. Jackson, agent for Pennsylvania, and Irish, 
doubted the expediency of the measure. Isaac Barre, also Irish, 
who had fought with Wolfe at Quebec, on 6 February burst out 
with a fiery defence of the colonists. '‘They planted by your care!” 
Jared Ingersoll reported that Barre said in answer to Charles 
Townshend: “No; your oppression planted them in America. 
They fled from your tyranny to a then uncultivated, inhospitable 
country. . . . They nourished by your indulgence! They grew by 
your neglect of them. . . . They protected by your arms! They 
have nobly taken up arms in your defence; have exer|:ed their 
valour amidst their constant and laborious industry for the de- 
fence of a country whose frontier was drenched in blood while its 
interior parts yielded all its little savings to your emolument.” He 
called them “sons of liberty.” The English majority was not 
affected by his Irish eloquence. On the jgth the Stamp bill 

CHAPTER 14 The Stamp Adi Passed S£1 

was read for the first time without discussion. Franklin the next 
day wrote to John Ross in Philadelphia: “The Stamp Act, not- 
withstanding all the opposition we have been able to give it, will 
pass. Every step in the law, every newspaper, advertisement, and 
almanac is severely taxed. If this should, as I imagine it will, occa- 
sion less law and less printing, it will fall particularly hard on us 
lawyers and printers.”^ Believing that nothing else could be done 
to stop the act, Franklin had already accepted it and was quietly 
urging other measures which he thought might offset it: among 
them, a repeal of the act which had prohibited the issue of paper 
money in the colonies, and the establishment of an American 

As he said it would, the Stamp Act passed the House, was ap- 
proved by the Lords, and on ss March received the king’s assent 
by commission, the king having had his first attack of insanity. 
The act was to go into effect i November. It required that stamps, 
of specified costs, be put on almost every legal paper, from one 
shilling on any document concerned with proceedings in ecclesias- 
tical courts to six pounds on any grant or privilege from a gov- 
ernor. The stamp for a college degree was to cost two pounds. For 
a bill of lading, fourpence. For an appointment to an office worth 
twenty pounds a year, ten shillings; more than twenty pounds a 
year, four pounds. For a liquor licence, four pounds. For a pack 
of cards, one shilling. For a pair of dice, ten shillings. For a news- 
paper on a half-sheet of paper, one halfpenny; on a whole sheet, 
One penny. For a pamphlet, one shilling. For an advertisement, 
two shillings. For an almanac, twopence. And so on through fifty- 
five articles. 

Franklin, on the day he wrote to Ross that the bill would pass, 
wrote also to say that he had ordered for David Hall a hundred 
reams of large half-sheets for use in printing the Pennsylvania 
Gazette at the lower rate. “Some days after the Stamp Act wa^ 
passed, to which I had given all the opposition I could, with Mr. 
Grenville, I received a note from Mr. Whately, his secretary, desir- 
mg to see me the next morning. I waited upon him accordingly, 
and found with him several other colony agents. He acquainted us 
lhat Mr. Grenville was desirous to make the execution of thd act 

522 Benjamin Franklin London 

as little inconvenient and disagreeable to the Americans as pos- 
sible; and therefore did not think of sending stamp officers from 
hence, but wished to have discreet and reputable persons appointed 
in each province from among the inhabitants, such as would be 
acceptable to them; for, as they were to pay the tax, he thought 
strangers should not have the emoluments. Mr. Whately therefore 
wished us to name for our respective colonies, informing us that 
Mr. Grenville would be obliged to us for pointing out to him 
honest and responsible men, and would pay great regard to our 
nominations.”^ Though this was obviously a politic and ingratiat- 
ing move of Grenville’s, Franklin saw no harm in it. Since the act 
was to be a law in America, it might best be administered by 
Americans. He nominated his friend John Hughes for Penn- 
sylvania, and advised Jared Ingersoll, then agent for Connecticut, 
to accept the post of stamp officer in that province. 

Franklin misjudged his countrymen. He did not expect them to 
resist the Stamp Act so violently as they did, and their violence 
surprised as well as disturbed him, when news of it began to reach 
England. These were not the quiet courses of reason. Disagreeable 
as the Stamp Act was, he thought it better to submit to it while 
working for its repeal. For him, it was only a single setback in a 
general campaign for imperial unity. The mistake had been made 
in London. American resistance meant British resentment, and 
was certain to delay the mutual understanding which he had at 
heart. Let Americans be as philosophical as they could, “Depend 
upon it, my good neighbour,” he wrote to Charles Thomson on 
11 July, “I took every step in my power to prevent the passing of 
the Stamp Act. Nobody could be more concerned in interest than 
myself to oppose it sincerely and heartily. But the tide was too 
strong against us. The nation was provoked by American claims of 
independence, and all parties joined in resolving by this act to 
settle the point. We might as well have hindered the sun’s setting. 
That we could not do. But since ’tis down, my friend, and it may 
be long before it rises again, let us make as good a night of it as 
we can. We may still light candles. Frugality and industry will go 
a great way toward indemnifying us. Idleness and pride tax with a 
heavier hand than kings and parliaments; if we can get rid of the 
former, we may easily bear the latter.”^ 


Tall Tales about America 


Between the passage of the act and the arrival in London of the 
angry news from America Franklin had a touch of gout that kept 
him in Craven Street for nearly two weeks in late spring and gave 
him time for other things besides his daily politics. Humour was 
fundamental in him. Calling himself “A Traveller/' on 20 May he 
sent to a newspaper his grave defence of newswriters, who might 
not tell the truth but who made talk. 

“Englishmen, Sir, are too apt to be silent when they have noth- 
ing to say; too apt to be sullen when they are silent; and when they 
are sullen, to hang themselves." And some of the things the news- 
writers told, “I can assure you, on the faith of a traveller, are 
serious truths." For instance, the stories from America of the 
manufactures which were being established there to take trade 
away from England. “The very tails of the American sheep are so 
laden with wool that each has a little car or wagon on four little 
wheels, to support and keep it from trailing on the ground. Would 
they caulk their ships, would they fill their beds, would they even 
litter their horses with wool if it were not both plenty and 
cheap? . . . Their engaging three hundred silk throwsters here 
in one week, for New York, was treated as a fable because, for- 
sooth, they have ‘no silk there to throw.' Those who made this 
objection perhaps did not know that at the same time the agents 
from the king of Spain were at Quebec to contract for a thousand 
pieces of cannon to be made there for the fortification of Mexico 
and at New York engaging the annual supply of woven floor car- 
pets for their West India houses, other agents from the emperor of 
China were at Boston treating about an exchange of raw silk for 
wool, to be carried in Chinese junks through the Straits of 

“And yet all this is as certainly true as the account, said to be 
from Quebec, in all the papers of last week, that the inhabitants 
of Canada are making preparations for a cod and whale fishery this 
‘summer in the upper lakes.' Ignorant people may object that the 
upper lakes are fresh and that cod and whale are salt-water fish. 

324 f Benjamin Franklin l o n d o f 

But let them know, Sir, that cod, like other fish when attacked by 
their enemies, fly into any water where they can be safest; that 
whales, when they have a mind to eat cod, pursue them wherever 
they fly; and that the grand leap of a whale in that chase up the 
fall of Niagara is esteemed, by all who have seen it, as one of the 
finest spectacles in nature. Really, Sir, the world is grown too in- 
credulous. It is like the pendulum, ever swinging from one ex- 
treme to another. Formerly everything printed was believed, be- 
cause it was in print. Now things seem to be disbelieved for just 
the very same reason. Wise men wonder at the present growth of 
infidelity. They should have considered, when they taught people 
to doubt the authority of newspapers and the truth of predictions 
in almanacs, that the next step might be a disbelief in the well- 
vouched accounts of ghosts, witches, and doubts even of the truths 
of the Creed. 

Franklin reworked the magic circle which he had made years 
ago and sent it to his electrical friend John Canton, carefully using 
inks of different colours. He wrote to Sir Alexander Dick recom- 
mending to him young Samuel Bard of New York, then studying 
in Edinburgh. (Bard, afterwards president of the College of Physi- 
cians and Surgeons in New York, was the son of John Bard for 
whom Franklin in Philadelphia had written his best known drink- 
ing song. Samuel Bard on his way to England in. 1761 had been 
captured by the French and held till he could send word to 
Franklin, who helped to bring about his release.^) To Lord Karnes, 
at his request, Franklin on 2, June wrote “my history from the 
time I set sail for America’’ in 1762, a compact masterpiece of 
autobiography. “Here I have been ever since,” he went on, “en- 
gaged in . . , public affairs relating to America, which are like to. 
continue some time longer upon my hands; but I promise you thaL 
when I am quit of these, I will engage in no other; and that, as 
soon as I have recovered the ease and leisure I hope for, the task 
you require of me, of finishing my Art of Virtue, shall be per- 
formed. In the meantime, I must request you would excuse me 
on this consideration, that the powers of the mind are possessed 
by different men in different degrees, and that everyone cannot, 
like bord Karnes, intermix literary pursuits and important busi- 
ness without prejudice to fi^er.” 


Musical Criticism 


Franklin, who had been reading Lord Karnes’s Elements of 
Criticism^ wished his friend had “examined more fully the subject 
of music.” Franklin’s own taste ran to simple airs, but ht had 
reasons for his preference. His comments on melody were fresh 
and original ideas about it which psychologists were not to develop 
for a hundred years. “The reason why Scotch tunes have lived so 
long and will probably live for ever (if they escape being stifled in 
modern affected ornament) is merely this, that they are really com- 
positions of melody and harmony united, or rather that their 
melody is harmony. I mean the simple tunes sung by a single voice. 
As this will appear paradoxical I must explain my meaning. In 
common acceptation, indeed, only an agreeable succession of 
sounds is called melody, and only the coexistence of agreeing 
sounds, harmony. But, since the memory is capable of retaining 
for some moments a perfect idea of the pitch of a past sound, so as 
to cCmpare with it the pitch of a succeeding sound and judge truly 
of their agreement or disagreement, there may and does arise from 
thence a sense of harmony between the present and the past sounds, 
equally pleasing with that between two present sounds. . . . 

“That we have a most perfect idea of a sound just past I might 
appeal to all acquainted with music, who know how easy it is to 
repeat a sound in the same pitch with one just heard. In tuning 
an' instrument, a good Car can as easily determine that two strings 
are in unison by soundihg them separately as by sounding them 
together; their disagrednient is also as' easily, I believe I may say 
more easily and better, distinguished when sounded separately; 
for when‘ sounded together, though you know by the beating that 
one* is higher than the other, you cannot tell which it is. I have* 
ascribed to memory the ability of comparing the pitch of a present 
tone with that of one past. But if there should be, as possibly 
thero may be, something in the ear similar to what we find in the 
eye, that ability would not be entirely owing to memory. Possibly 
the vibrations given to the atiditory nerves by a particular sound 
may actually continue some time after the cause of those vibrations 
is past, and the agreement or disagreement of a subsequent sound 
bOcome by comparison with them more discernible. For the im- 
pression made on^ the risuai nerves by a lumindus object Will con- 
tinue for twenty or thirty seconds. Sitting in a fd'om, look earnestly’ 

326 Benjamin Franklin London 

at the middle of a window a little while when the day is bright, 
and then shut your eyes; the figure of the window will still remain 
in the eye, and so distinct that you may count the panes. . . . 

“Farther, when we consider by whom these ancient tunes were 
composed and how they were first performed, we shall see that 
each harmonical succession of sounds was natural and even neces- 
sary in their construction. They were composed by the minstrels 
of those days to be played on the harp accompanied by the voice. 
The harp was strung with wire, which gives a sound of long con- 
tinuance, and had no contrivance, like that in the modern harpsi- 
chord, by which the sound of the preceding could be stopped the 
moment a succeeding note began. To avoid actual discord it was 
therefore necessary that the succeeding emphatic note should be a 
chord with the preceding, as their sounds must exist at the same 
time. Hence arose the beauty in those tunes that has so long 
pleased and will please for ever, though men scarce know why. . . . 
Most tunes of late composition, not having this natural harmony 
united with their melody, have recourse to the artificial harmony 
of a bass and other accompanying parts. This support, in my 
opinion, the old tunes do not need, and are rather confused than 
aided by it.’’® 

Two days later Franklin was writing domestically to his wife 
about the new house into which, after many delays on the part of 
the builder, she had moved, though she was still unsettled. “I could 
have wished to have been present at the finishing of the kitchen, as 
it is a mere machine and, being new to you, I think you will scarce 
know how to work it; the several contrivances to carry off steam 
and smell and smoke not being fully explained to you. The oven I 
suppose was put up by the written directions in my former letter. 
You mention nothing of the furnace. If that iron one is not set, let 
it alone till my return, when I shall bring a more convenient 
copper one. ... I cannot but complain in my mind of Mr. Smith 
that the house is so long unfit for you to get into, the fences not 
put up, nor the other necessary articles got ready. The well I 
expected would have been dug in the winter, but I hear nothing 
of it. You should have gardened long before the date of your last, 
but it seems the rubbish was not removed. I am much obliged to 
my good old friends that did me the honour to remember me in 

CHAPTER 14 The Virginia Mesohes 527 

the unfinished kitchen. I hope soon to drink with them in the 


When Grenville was succeeded by the milder Rockingham as 
first minister in July Franklin thought more about the prospects 
for a change from proprietary government than about the pos- 
sibility of getting the Stamp Act repealed. And on 9 August he 
could still write to John Hughes of the need of reason and even of 
submission. “The rashness of the Assembly in Virginia is amazing. 
I hope, however, that ours will keep within the bounds of pru- 
dence and moderation; for that is the only way to lighten or get 
clear of our burdens. As to the Stamp Act, though we purpose 
doing our endeavour to get it repealed, yet the success is uncer- 
tain. ... A firm loyalty to the Crown and faithful adherence to 
the government of this nation, which it is the safety as well as 
honour of the colonies to be connected with, will always be the 
wisest course for you and I to take, whatever may be the madness 
of the populace or their blind leaders, who can only bring them- 
selves and country into trouble and draw on greater burthens by 
acts of rebellious tendency.*’® 

By an irony of which Franklin was then possibly unaware, and 
which none of his biographers has noted, he had remotely had a 
hand in the American uproar. The defiant resolutions which 
Patrick Henry moved in the Virginia House of Burgesses on 29 
May seemed too treasonable to be printed in Williamsburg, 
Philadelphia, or New York, but first appeared in the Newport 
Mercury for 24 June. And the Mercury had been founded by the 
younger James Franklin, now dead, who had learned his trade as 
apprentice to his uncle Benjamin. 

Whoever first printed the Virginia Resolves, they were bound to 
reach the public. Reprinted the next week in Boston, still in a 
version more inflammatory than the one which had been voted in 
Virginia, they became, as the governor of Massachusetts said, “an 
alarum bell to the disaffected” from Halifax to St. Augustine. The 
assemblies might be generally temperate in their protests, but the 

5^8 Benjamin Franklin London 

people were outspoken. While the General Court of Massachusetts 
was calling an intercolonial congress to meet in New York in 
October, groups of unofficial men in various colonies were being 
organized as Sons of Liberty. Colonel Barre bad called Americans 
that in Parliament, and they enthusiastically welcomed the name. 

It was a large name, for the colonists did not think the Stamp 
Act a small issue. They had long been used to having their trade 
regulated by the British government, on the old assumption that 
colonies existed, economically, to furnish raw materials to the 
mother country and a market for manufactured goods. Franklin in 
his letters to Governor Shirley in 1754 had studied the system with 
penetrating eyes, and had pointed out that it was not only selfish 
on the part of Britain but actually short-sighted. To regulate the 
colonial trade too strictly was to reduce the volume of it, at the 
cost of American prosperity and British profits. But the acts of 
31764 were stricter than any before them. Besides new duties on 
non-British goods imported to the colonies, there were new col- 
lectors, who made it difficult to get round the unpleasant law by 
smuggling. The Sugar Act undertook jo limit the West Indian 
trade to the British islands, which did not produce as much 
molasses as the northern colonies required. Rum distilled from 
molasses was a universal beverage in America, and it was the 
currency used in trading with the Indians for furs and in Africa 
for slaves. With these trades hampered by the lack of rum, and 
with non-British markets cut off in the West Indies, the northern 
colonies could not make the money which they paid for British 
tnanufactures. Their whole economic life was upset. And they 
knew it was purely for the benefit of the British sugar planters, 
whose influence with Parliament had shaped the act. 

While this was a grievance, the Stamp Act was an outrage, the 
Americans thought and said over and over during 1765 while they 
waited for it to go into effect in November, more and more firmly 
Bent on resisting it, That the revenue produced was to be spent in 
^ni^riea for the support of soldiers to defend the frontier did not 
piatter. I^owever it might be explained, it was a direct ta^, and if 
bad not been laid upon them by their assemblies. They alone had 
jhe right fo yofe public money, and they had maip.tained the right 

chapter 14 


Uproar in America 

in many conflicts with their governors. Parliament, laying a tax 
upon the colonies without consulting them, was no better than a 
governor. Even Parliament could not tax Americans, who had no 
representative in Parliament. Their right not to be taxed without 
being represented was constitutional, fundamental, and sacred. 
Much of their reasoning was inexact, but their feelings were clear 
and sharp. The French and Indian war, which had made the 
British government think of the colonies as important enough to 
be taxed, had made the Americans think of themselves as important 
enough to say how they should be taxed. Though they had still a 
traditional affection for the homeland and the king, this did not in 
the same degree extend to Parliament, which the Americans knew, 
as honest men in England knew, was a corrupt and arrogant oli- 
garchy. The Stamp Act was not merely disputed legislation. It was 
an encroachment of prerogative. The Americans at large looked 
upon Parliament somewhat as the Pennsylvanians looked upon the 

The news which reached England during the latter part of 1765 
Was diversified but mostly of one meaning. The nine colonies that 
sent delegates to the Stamp Act Congress of October had come 
nearer to intercolonial accord than so many colonies had ever come 
before. Mild as their resolutions were, they seemed to the Lords of 
Trade to Set a dangerous precedent. The Congress, not prompted 
by royal officials like that at Albatiy eleven years before, was extra- 
legal, a kind of dignified mutiny. Riots had broken out, from New 
Hampshire to South Carolina, after the names of the stamp dis- 
tributors were published in America in August. The rioters were 
worst in Boston, but Franklin’s friends Ingersoll in Connecticut 
and Hughes in Pennsylvania were both threatened by mobs and 
both forced to resign. Before the act went into effect there were no 
officers left to carry it out. When the stamps arrived, very few were 
used. Business went on without them or did not go oti at all. As a 
protest against the revenue acts there had beOn Widespread agree- 
ments to boycott British goodsi, and threats to begin manufacturing 
in Anierica. Merchants stopped importing, and Could not always 
pay for what they had Ordered. Debtors were in distress, men ottt 
of worlc, restive and turbulent. The effects Were felt in Britain, 

SSO Benjamin Franklin London 

where the American trade was said to have been cut in halt. British 
manufacturers, merchants, shippers, and tradesmen began to join 
with Americans in opposition to the acts. 

For Franklin the Stamp Act was nearly a catastrophe. His ene- 
mies in Philadelphia caught at the occasion. They said, at that 
long, slow distance, that he had framed the act himself, encouraged 
its passage, and profited by it. He had, they said, got money for 
recommending stamp officers, and he had been promised a high 
post under the Crown. This was the agent who had gone to London 
for the redress of Pennsylvania’s grievances. And this was a worse 
grievance than the Penns had ever thought of. Some of the anger 
which the Philadelphia rioters showed John Hughes was aimed at 
Franklin. There was talk of setting fire to his new house. William 
Franklin hurried from Burlington and urged his mother and sister 
to take refuge with him in New Jersey. Deborah Franklin let Sally 
go, but she herself would not move. One of her brothers came to 
stay with her, and one of her husband’s nephews. She had them 
bring guns, and, she wrote to London, “we turned one room into 
a magazine. I ordered some sort of defence upstairs, such as I could 
manage myself.” She knew she had offended nobody and she was 
sure her husband had not. And she believed that if there were any 
trouble she would have more friends than enemies. 

Franklin on* 8 July wrote to a friend that the malice of his adver- 
saries was harmless: “all their arrows . . . have been like those 
that Rabelais speaks of, which were headed with butter hardened 
in the sun.”^ But as matters became worse he could not help being 
seriously concerned. Trying to draw two parts of the Empire 
together, he found himself suspected by each of being a partisan of 
the other. He had to choose between antagonists. As to his choice 
he was never in the least doubt. Though he made no excuses for 
the American rioters, he was on the side of the Americans. His 
change was in tactics, not in principles. What America was saying 
now he had said years ago in his letters to Shirley. But he seems to 
have believed that a just and stable imperial unity might be 
brought about by intelligent reasoning in London and through the 
voluntary decision of the British government to be unselfish and 
far-sighted about America. He had foreseen the time when America 
would be more populous than Britain and the balance of empire 

CHAPTER 14 Mixed Motives SSI 

lie west of the Atlantic. That time, he knew, had not come, and yet 
the precocious Americans were already demanding their rights and 
ready to resist what seemed a violation of them. Quickly shifting 
his ground, he cited the American demands as proof of his argu- 
ment that unity in the Empire depended upon local government 
in America and representation in Parliament. 

The violence reported from the colonies made his work difficult. 
Then outcries sounded above his quiet voice, urging reason and 
wisdom. Parliament, which had expected nothing of the kind, was 
startled into resentment and persistence. The Grenville ministry 
had fallen for causes unconnected with the Stamp Act, and the 
new and weak ministry of Rockingham had not at first taken a 
stand on it. In the confusion of current politics there was no person 
or party to whom Franklin could go, to enlighten and persuade. 
This was not science or philosophy. This was a political situation, 
and he was faced with a whole patchwork of passions and interests. 
Grenville and his adherents in the opposition were unwilling to 
admit that they had blundered. The king saw in the American 
protests a threat to his plans for personal rule, and grew more 
stubborn than ever. The king's friends would vote with the king. 
The lawyers insisted on the strict legality of the act. The land- 
owners held out for the simple reason that the act promised to 
reduce their taxes by making the colonies support the British 
forces in America. And London swarmed with placemen who 
realized that the more the British took a hand in colonial control 
the more places there would be for them. 

Against none of these could Franklin hope to make much head- 
way in arguing for the repeal of the Stamp Act. He had to try to 
win a majority without them. Pitt was supposed to be in favour of 
repeal, but he had refused to join the Rockingham ministry. The 
ministry was eager to discredit Grenville's policy, and it had liberal 
Whig opinions, but it was divided and its hold was insecure. 
Franklin, who had been close to Grenville through Richard Jack 
son, was close to Rockingham through his private secretary Ed- 
mund Burke, who was Irish, philosophical, friendly to Americans 
and Quakers, and was just entering Parliament as member for 
Wendover. There were of course not enough liberals and philos- 
ophers in power to repeal the unwise act. Franklin had to appeal 

SS£ Benjamin Franklin X^oNPo^r 

to ordinary politicians by talking of their interests or the interests 
of their constituents. was extremely busy,” he told Lord Karnes, 
^'attending members of both Houses, informing, explaining, con- 
sulting, disputing, in a continual hurry from morning to night.”^® 
His prestige as a philosopher, his enormous knowledge of Ameri- 
can affairs, his skill in persuasive argument, his wide acquaintance, 
and his knack at getting along with all sorts of people made him 
first among all those who were working for repeal. But his prin- 
cipal strength came from his association with the British manu- 
facturers, merchants, shippers, and tradesmen who were suffering 
from the consequences of the act. They too were victims of the 
landowning oligarchy who legislated for their own advantage and 
despised the commercial class. This was Franklin’s class. He under- 
stood such men, and they him. Though they were still little repre^ 
sented in Parliament, they were rising men and they had an 
increasing influence on public opinion. The problem was to or- 
ganize and present that opinion with such force that the land- 
owners would not dare to overlook it, Franklin was the American 
spokesman for an American-British propaganda. 

From August 1765 to the following January there are only scant 
and broken records of what Franklin was doing, thinking, saying. 
As if he had somehow gone underground, he worked cautiously 
and anonymously, calling the least attention to himself. No need 
to remind Americans that the propagandist was a Crown officer or 
the British that he was agent for Pennsylvania. But he gave his 
whole time and strength to the undertaking. He dined with Rock- 
ingham, he conferred with Lord Dartmouth. In a manuscript now 
first published,^^ apparently written during this busy hiatus, he set 
down the outline of his argument, probably as he had to repeat it 
many times. ‘‘We do not dispute your power,” he said as if he were 
addressing the House of Commons, '‘We know we cannot in any 
form support a contest with you. Not only in arms, etc,, our supe- 
riors infinitely; but in abilities of mind, knowledge, cultivated 
reason, etc. We cannot subsist without your friendship and protec- 
tion, etc. But the greater you are, and the more we are in your 
power, the more careful you should be to do nothing but what is 

“Internal tax. Freemen to be taxed by their representatives^ 

CHAPTER 14 JVotes for an Argument 33S 

People of America fond of liberty. Suppose themselves to enjoy 
much of it. Will think all lost. They fear the example. ’Tis raising 
contributions on them (they will say) as in a conquered country. 
Right they should contribute, but they will do as much as they can 
afford voluntarily if properly called on. At present they love 
Britain [he had first written "‘England"' and then wrote “Britain" 
above it], are fond of British people, British customs, modes, books, 
manufactures. A disgust of all these will ensue. Trade will suffer 
more than the tax profits. They will grow obstinately frugal. 

“Post office rates no tax. Service done at a much cheaper rate. It 
is only a quantum meruit. Equity and justice wins hearts and 
secures dominions. The disgust occasioned by this tax will sow the 
seeds and lay the foundation of future disunion, misery, etc. False 
ideas given of their wealth by officers entertained at their houses. 
All their profits [?] centre in Britain. It is depriving subjects of 
the only means in their power to show their loyalty to their sov- 
ereign. Would the Commons like to have the Lords lay all th*e 
taxes on them, though they were to lay them ever so justly and 
equitably? People will make less conscience of smuggling. 

“It is not wise to do it. Everything one has a right to do is not 
best to be done. More money will be got by voluntary grant. 
People will give from affection rather more than they can spare. 

“Three ways^ of avoiding these' incoUX?enienCes: 

“i. By allowing each colony io send members to Parliament. 
The reasons. It will prevent their clamour. They are as numerous 
as North BritoOs, and wiK in a little time be as wealthy. Therefore' 
deserve to be represented. Repxesfentation useful two ways. It 
brings information aM knowledge to the great council. It conveys 
back to the remote parts of the empire the reasons of public con- 
duct; thus prevents discontents and insurrection arising from want 
of or misinformation. The more' extended an empire this becomes 
the more necessary. "Tis cheaper than armies and garrisons to keep 
such countries in quiet; and the people themselves are at thO 
expense. It will draw the most wea^lthy people' to live in Loncion, 
and their wealth with them, for such Only Can aflEord to be 
P[arliament] m![emb]erS or create patronage. It w'ill for ex^er pre- 
serve the iMnibn which otherwise may be Various Ways broken, a*!^ 
by division in^ the' royal family, etc. If members are' allowed* to eacb 


S34f Benjamin Franklin 

colony, perhaps at present all may not like to send them; some 
fiom the expense, etc. Yet these will then have little right to com- 
plain. Their omission is a tacit empowering the rest to proceed 
without them. 

''2. By empowering them to send delegate from each assembly 
to a common council, of which council the sums to be asked. This 
practicable. Albany Plan. 

“3. By the paper money scheme.” 

In these notes Franklin did not mention the Stamp Act by name. 
It was merely one of the internal taxes which Parliament had no 
right to lay on the colonies, so long as they were unrepresented. 
Representation meant more to him than repeal. The act might be 
temporary, the repeal temporary. What was needed was a lasting 
principle of agreement and a consolidating union. But by the end 
of the year he seems to have given up hope that any fundamental 
measures would be taken. The other colonial agents insisted on 
repeal as soon as possible. Franklin's British allies wanted a general 
trade reform, but they agreed to concentrate on the Stamp Act, 
which Franklin came to call ‘‘the mother of mischief.” On 4 De- 
cember many of the merchants trading to North America met at 
the King’s Arms tavern and chose a committee, with Barlow 
Trecothick — ^who had lived in Boston — ^as chairman, to bring their 
cause before Parliament. They drummed up petitions for repeal 
from trading towns throughout the kingdom: Bristol, Liverpool, 
Halifax, Leeds, Lancaster, Leicester, Bradford, Frome, Birming- 
ham, Coventry, Macclesfield, Wolverhampton, Stourbridge, Dud^ 
ley, Minehead, Taunton, Witney, Newcastle, Glasgow, Chippen- 
ham, Nottingham. They arranged for the House of Commons to 
give a hearing to witnesses who could testify to the bad effects of 
the act. 

Parliament met briefly on ly December and again on 14 January, 
to plunge into long and fierce debate. Grenville and the opposition 
strenuously resisted any change in the colonial policy which they 
had begun. Parliament was sovereign, and the right of taxation was 
an essential part of its power. The Americans talked of liberty, but 
what they wanted was stingily to pay as little as possible. Their 
high talk was only a pretence to justify their illegal and riotous 
misbehaviour. If Parliament yielded now, there was no telling how 

CHAPTER 14 Pitt and Burke SS 5 

far the Americans would go. Repeal would be humiliation to 
Parliament, treachery to Britain. On the side of the ministry and 
their friends Burke made his first speech, in favour of the colonists, 
and Pitt showed his mighty hand. Franklin, who seems to have 
been present on 14 January, reported Pitt’s speech to Strahan. 
“Mr. Pitt spoke some time before one could divine on which side 
of the question relating to America he ivould be; but, beginning 
first to mention the Stamp Act by the soft term of that 'unhappy 
act,’ he went on, and every time he had occasion to mention it, it 
i\ras by a term still stronger, as 'unconstitutional,’ 'unjust,’ 'oppres- 
sive,’ etc., till he finally declared in express terms that British 
Parliament had in his opinion no right to raise internal taxes in 
America, though it had to regulate their commerce and even re- 
strain their manufactures.”^^ These were Franklin’s opinions, al- 
most in Franklin’s words. But Franklin knew that Burke had only 
his eloquence with which to move Parliament, and that Pitt, out 
of the ministry, had less power with the members than with the 
public, who would not vote. The king and the king’s friends were 
unalterably set against repeal, some of the ministers, and as many 
of the landowners as could not be reached by the pressure of the 
commercial groups. And there were any number who held what 
Franklin on 6 January called the “mistaken opinion that the 
honour and dignity of government is better supported by persist- 
ing in a wrong measure once entered into than by rectifying an 
error as soon as it is discover ed.”^^ 

“I am excessively hurried,” Franklin wrote to his wife on 
2:2 February, “being, every hour that I am awake, either abroad to 
speak with members of Parliament or taken up with people com- 
ing to me at home concerning our American affairs.”^^ Through- 
out the debate he never rested. He carried it from Parliament to 
the public and wrote anonymous letters to the newspapers, shrewd 
and biting. He now for the first time published, in Strahan’s 
London Chronicle for 6-8 February, his letters to Shirley, the most 
thoroughgoing statement of the American position that London 
had ever read. He encouraged others to write on American affairs. 
With a stage manager’s foresight he laid plans for the time when 
he should be allowed to speak out in his own person. On 3 Febru- 
ary he was ordered to attend the House of Commons, which was 

3 36 Benjamin Franklin London 

sitting as a committee of the whole to hear the crowd of witnesses 
whom the merchants had produced. On the 13th he was excused 
from further attendance. On that day, and it may be also on the 
day before, the most renowned American had come to the bar and 
answered the House’s questions about America.^® 


Franklin was known by sight or reputation to the members, or 
most of them, but the Speaker asked him, for the record: ‘‘What 
is your name and place of abode?” And he answered: “Franklin, 
of Philadelphia.” Then promptly his friends, the friends of repeal, 
took up the exposition of their cause. Grave as the issue was, the 
examination was in form almost a historical comedy, with the 
philosopher who had helped direct it now playing the chief part. 
He knew what questions his friends would ask, and had his an- 
swers ready. As to his adversaries’ questions, he would have to 
improvise. No point was likely to come up that he had not thought 
how to meet. 

James Hewitt led off. Member for Coventry, he was the son of 
a mercer and draper of that town, which manufactured ribbons 
and worsteds and had protested against the Stamp Act which made 
Americans resolve to do without them. 

“Q. Do the Americans pay any considerable taxes among them- 

'‘A, Certainly many, and very heavy taxes.” 

Hewitt asked what the taxes were in Pennsylvania, for what 
purposes they were laid, and how long they were to continue. 
Franklin answered with quiet precision, stressing the debt con- 
tracted in the recent war. 

“Q. Was it not expected that the debt would have been sooner 

It was, when the peace was made with France and Spain. 
But, a fresh war breaking out with the Indians, a fresh load of debt 
was incurred; and the taxes, of course, continued longer by a new 

“Q. Are not all the people very able to pay those taxes? 



Canny §^§lions 

''A. No. The frontier counties, all along the continent, having 
been frequently ravaged by the enemy and greatly impoverished, 
are able to pay very little tax. And therefore, in consideration of 
their distresses, our late tax laws do expressly favour those counties, 
excusing the sufferers; and I suppose the same is done in other 

Hewitt, who had given Franklin a chance to say that the Amer- 
icans were already paying heavily for the imperial ivar, and also for 
a war of their own, was followed by John Huske, member for 
Maldon. Huske had been born in New Hampshire, the son of Ellis 
Huske who for twenty years was postmaster of Boston. 

“Q. Are you not concerned in the management of the post office 
in America? 

''A. Yes. I am Deputy Postmaster-General of North America. 

“Q. Don’t you think the distribution of stamps by post to all the 
inhabitants very practicable, if there was no opposition? 

''A, The posts only go along the sea coasts; they do not, except in 
a few instances, go back into the country; and if they did, sending 
for stamps by post would occasion an expense of postage amount- 
ing, in many cases, to much more than that of the stamps them- 
selves, . . . 

''Qj From the thinness of the back settlements, would not the 
Stamp Act be extremely inconvenient to the inhabitants, if 

''A. To be sure it would; as many of the inhabitants could not 
get stamps when they had occasion for them without taking long 
journeys and spending perhaps three or four pounds that the 
Crown might get sixpence.” 

Here “one of the late administration, an adversary,” who must 
have seen how Huske was playing into Franklin’s hands, inter- 
/ up ted the artful dialogue. 

“Q. Are not the colonies, from their circumstances, very able to 
pay the stamp duty? 

''A, In my opinion there is not gold and silver enough in the 
colonies to pay the stamp duty for one year. 

“Q. Don’t you know that the money arising from the stamps 
was all to be laid out in America? 

''A. I know it is appropriated by the act to the American service; 

SSS Benjamin Franklin London 

but it will be spent in the conquered colonies [Canada and Flor- 
ida], where the soldiers are, not in the colonies that pay it. 

‘'<2- Is there not a balance of trade due from the colonies where 
the troops are posted that will bring back the money to the old 

''A, I think not. I believe very little will come back. I know of 
no trade likely to bring it back. I think it would come from the 
colonies where it was spent directly to England.” 

Huske resumed his questioning, about the dissatisfaction of the 
Pennsylvania Germans with the act and the number of w^hite men 
in America. This was to make American resistance seem formida- 
ble. In answer to another question Franklin explained how Penn- 
sylvania, which exported little to the British Isles, paid for its 
imports. “The balance is paid by our produce carried to the West 
Indies and sold in our own islands or to the French, Spaniards, 
Dutch, and Danes; by the same carried to other colonies in North 
America, as to New England, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Caro- 
lina, and Georgia; by the same carried to difEerent parts of Europe, 
as Spain, Portugal, and Italy. In all which places we receive either 
money, bills of exchange, or commodities that suit for remittance 
to Britain; which, together with all the profits on the industry of 
our merchants and mariners, arising in these circuitous voyages, 
and the freights made by their ships, centre finally in Britain to 
discharge the balance and pay for British manufactures continually 
used in the province or sold to foreigners by our traders.” 

At this point Huske asked a question which was omitted from 
the record. “There had been,” Franklin later remembered,^® “a 
considerable party in the House for saving the honour and right 
of Parliament by retaining the act and yet making it tolerable to 
America, by reducing it to a stamp on commissions for profitable 
offices and on cards and dice. I had, in conversation with many of 
them, objected to this, as it would require an establishment for the 
distributors which would be a great expense, as the stamps would 
not be sufficient to pay them, and so the odium and contention 
would be kept up for nothing. The notion of amending, however, 
still continued, and one of the most active of the members for 
promoting it told me he was sure I could, if I would, assist them 
to amend the act in such a manner that America should have little 

CHAPTER 14 "'Too Light and Ludicrous"' SS 9 

or no objection to it. 1 must confess/ says I, 'I have thought of one 
amendment; if you will make it the act may remain and yet the 
Americans xvill be quieted. It is a very small amendment, too; it is 
only the change of a single word/ ‘Aye/ says he, ‘what is that?' ‘It 
is in that clause where it is said that from and after the first day of 
November one thousand seven hundred and sixty-five, there shall 
be paid, etc. The amendment I would propose is, for one read 
two, and then all the rest of the act may stand as it does. I believe 
it will give nobody in America any uneasiness.' Mr. Huske had 
heard of this, and, desiring to bring out the same answer in the 
House, asked me whether I could not propose a small amendment 
that would make the act palatable. But, as I thought the answer he 
wanted too light and ludicrous for the House, I evaded the 

Grenville, Franklin afterwards thought it had been, brought the 
discussion sharply back from trade to justice. 

“Q. Do you think it right that America should be protected by 
this country and pay no part of the expense? 

“J. That is not the case. The colonies raised, clothed, and paid, 
during the last war, near 25,000 men and spent many millions. 

“Q. Were you not reimbursed by Parliament? 

“A. We were only reimbursed what, in your opinion, we had 
advanced beyond our proportion, or beyond what might be rea- 
sonably expected from us; and it was a very small part of what we 
spent. Pennsylvania, in particular, disbursed about £500,000, and 
the reimbursements in the whole did not exceed £60,000." 

The examination swung to the amount of taxes in Pennsylvania 
and the rate of exchange. Then somebody, who may have been 
either friend or adversary: “Do you not think the people of 
America would submit to pay the stamp duty if it was moderated?" 
And Franklin said: “No, never, unless compelled by force of arms."^ 
. Robert Nugent, ambitious poet, assiduous politician, rich from 
marrying three rich widows, member for Bristol, and that year to 
become Viscount Clare and president of the Board of Trade, flut- 
tered into the argument (“His drift," Franklin said, “was to estab- 
lish a notion he had entertained, that the people in America had 
a crafty mode of discouraging the English trade by heavy taxes on 

340 Benjamin Franklin London 

“Q. Do not they, as much as possible, shift the tax ojff from land, 
to ease that, and lay the burden heavier on trade? 

''A. I have never understood it so. I never heard such a thine 
suggested. And indeed an attempt of that kind could answer no 
purpose. The merchant or trader is always skilled in figures, and 
ready with his pen and ink. If unequal burdens are laid on his 
trade, he puts an additional price on his goods; and the consumers, 
who are chiefly landholders, finally pay the greatest part, if not 
the whole.” 

The answer made the questioner look silly. Grey Cooper, lawyer, 
pamphleteer, supporter of Rockingham, and a secretary of the 
treasury, went on with questions for which Franklin had some of 
his neatest answers. 

“Q. What was the temper of America towards Great Britain 
before the year 1763? 

''A. The best in the world. They submitted willingly to the 
government of the Crown, and paid, in all their courts, obedience 
to acts of Parliament. Numerous as the people are in the several 
provinces, they cost you nothing in forts, citadels, garrisons, or 
armies to keep them in subjection. They were governed by this 
country at the expense only of a little pen, ink, and paper. They 
were led by a thread. They had not only a respect but an affection 
for Great Britain; for its laws, its customs and manners, and even 
a fondness for its fashions, that greatly increased the commerce. 
Natives of Britain were always treated with particular regard; to 
be an Old England man was, of itself, a character of some respect 
and gave a kind of rank among them. 

And what is their temper now? 

''A. Oh, very much altered. . . . 

“Q. In what light did the people of America use to consider the 
Parliament of Great Britain? 

''A. They considered the Parliament as the great bulwark and 
security of their liberties and privileges, and always spoke of it 
with the utmost respect and veneration. Arbitrary ministers, they 
thought, might possibly at times attempt to oppress them; but they 
relied on it that Parliament on application would always give 
redress. . . . 

''Q. And have they not still the same respect for Parliament? 

CHAPTER 14 Internal and External Taxes 541 

''A, No, it is greatly lessened. 

‘‘Q. To what causes is that owing? 

''A. To a concurrence of causes: the restraints lately laid on 
their trade by which the bringing of foreign gold and silver into 
the colonies was prevented; the prohibition of making paper 
money among themselves, and then demanding a new and heavy 
tax by stamps; taking away, at the same time, trials by juries and 
refusing to receive and hear their humble petitions/' 

Cooper or other friends gave Franklin a chance to say, what he 
had written long ago, that the population of America doubled 
every twenty-five years, but their demand for manufactures in- 
creased at a much more rapid rate. Nugent asked about the increase 
of population, and Franklin accounted for it by the early marriages 
in America. Then, Nugent asked, were not “the lower ranks of 
people more at their ease in America than in England" — ^implying, 
more able to pay taxes? Franklin told him merely: “They may be 
so, if they are sober and diligent, as they are better paid for their 

Friends and adversaries asked whether a modified Stamp Act or 
a future tax laid on the same principle would be more acceptable 
to Americans, and Franklin said no. They would never submit, 
never pay. 

“Q. Have you not heard of the resolutions of this House, and of 
the House of Lords, asserting the right of Parliament relating to 
America, including a power to tax the people there? 

Yes, I have heard of such resolutions. 

“Q. What will be the opinion of the Americans on those 

“J. They will think them unconstitutional and unjust. 

“Q. Was it an opinion in America before 1763 that the Parlia- 
ment had no right to lay taxes and duties there? 

I never heard any objection to the right of laying duties to 
regulate commerce; but a right to lay internal taxes was never sup- 
posed to be in Parliament, as we are not represented there. 

“Q. On what do you found your opinion that the people in 
America made any such distinction? 

"'A. I know that whenever the subject has occurred in conversa- 
tion where I have been present, it has appeared to be the opinion 

34<2 Benjamm Franklin London 

of everyone that we could not be taxed by a Parliament where we 
were not represented. But the payment of duties laid by an act of 
Parliament, as regulations of commerce, was never disputed.'* 

Someone brought up the point that the colonial governors and 
assemblies had often been at odds over voting public money. 

“Q. ... In case a governor, acting by instruction, should call 
on an assembly to raise the necessary supplies, and the assembly 
should refuse to do it, do you not think it would then be for the 
good of the people, as well as necessary to the government, that 
the Parliament should tax them? 

''A. I do not think it would be necessary. If an assembly could 
possibly be so absurd as to refuse raising the supplies necessary for 
the maintenance of government among them, they could not long 
remain in such a situation; the disorders and confusion occasioned 
by it must soon bring them to reason, 

“Q, If it should not, ought not the right to be in Great Britain 
of applying the remedy? 

A right, only to be used in such a case, I should have no 
objection to; supposing it to be used merely for the good of the 
people of the colony. 

“Q. But who is to judge of that: Britain or the colony? 

''A. Those that feel can judge best." 

Now the opposition for some time led the questioning. In par- 
ticular they challenged Franklin's delicate — ^and dangerous — dis- 
tinction between internal and external taxes. If the colonists were 
allowed to decide upon their internal taxes, they might later make 
the same claim for such external taxes as duties regulating their 

You say the colonies have always submitted to external 
taxes and object to the right of Parliament only in laying internal 
taxes. Now can you show that there is any kind of difference 
between the two taxes to the colony on which they may be laid? 

''A, I think the difference is very great. An external tax is a duty 
laid on commodities imported; that duty is added to the first cost 
and other charges on the commodity and, when it is offered for 
sale, makes a part of the price. If the people do not like it at that 
pri<^, they refuse it; they are not obliged to pay it. But an internal 
tax is forced from the people widbout their consent, if not laid by 

CHAPTER 14 American Self-Sufficiency S43 

their own representatives. The Stamp Act says we shall have no 
commerce, make no exchange of property with each other, neither 
purchase nor grant nor recover debts; we shall neither marry nor 
make our wills; unless we pay such and such sums; and thus it is 
intended to extort our money from us or ruin us by the conse- 
quences of refusing to pay it. 

“Q, But supposing the external tax or duty to be laid on the 
necessaries of life imported into your colony, will not that be the 
same thing in its effects as an internal tax? 

“A, I do not know a single article imported into the northern 
colonies but what they can either do without or make themselves.” 

This was true, Franklin explained, even of cloth. (He knew that 
the British wool-growers and cloth-makers had suffered greatly 
from the American boycott.) The Americans had given up eating 
lamb to increase the amount of wool in the country. “The people 
will all spin and work for themselves in their own houses.” The 
southern colonists did not need much wool. “Their winters are 
short and not very severe; and they can very well clothe themselves 
with linen and cotton for the rest of the year.” 

The questioning turned sharply back to the matter of repeal and 
Parliament’s claim of a right to tax the Americans. 

“Q. Considering the resolutions of Parliament as to the right, 
do you think, if the Stamp Act is repealed, that the North Amer- 
icans will be satisfied? . . . 

'‘A, I think the resolutions of right will give them very little 
concern if they are never attempted to be carried into practice. 
The colonies will probably consider themselves in the same situa- 
tion, in that respect, with Ireland; they know you claim the same 
right with Ireland, but you never exercise it. And they may believe 
you never will exercise it in the colonies unless on some very 
extraordinary occasion. 

“Q. But who are to be the judges of that extraordinary occa- 
sion? Is not the Parliament? 

“J. Though the Parliament may judge of the occasion, the 
people will think it can never exercise such right till representa- 
tives from the colonies are admitted into Parliament; and that, 
whenever the occasion arises, representatives will be ordered.” 

More questions on certain details of American legislation, and 


344 Benjamin Franklin 

then the friends of repeal again, on more dramatic aspects of the 

Can anything less than a military force carry the Stamp 
Act into execution? 

I do not see how a military force can be applied to that 

Why may it not? 

''A, Suppose a military force sent into America, they will find 
nobody in arms; what then are they to do? They cannot force a 
man to take stamps who chooses to do without them. They will 
not find a rebellion; they may indeed make one. 

If the act is not repealed, what do you think will be the 

"^^A. The total loss of the respect and affection the people of 
America bear to this country, and of all the commerce that depends 
on that respect and affection.’’ 

With a run of questions the opposition asked Franklin how the 
Americans would get along without British imports, if internal 
taxes were laid. 

“Q; Then no regulation with a tax would be submitted to? 

^^A, Their opinion is that when aids to the Crown are wanted 
they are to be asked of the several assemblies, according to the old 
established usage; who will, as they always have done, grant them 
fireely. And that their money ought not to be given away, without 
their consent, by persons at a distance, unacquainted with their 
circumstances and abilities. The granting aids to the Crown is the 
only means they have of recommending themselves to their sov- 
ereign; and they think it extremely hard and unjust that a body 
of men in which they have no representatives should make a merit 
to itself of giving and granting what is not its own but theirs; and 
deprive them of a right they esteem of the utmost value and impor- 
tance, as it is the security of all their other rights,” 

Grenville asked: '‘But is not the post office, which they have long 
received, a tax as well as a regulation?” 

No. The money paid for the postage of a letter is not of the 
nature of a tax; it is merely a quantum meruit for a service done; 
no person is compellable to pay the money if he does not choose to 
receive the service. A man may still, as before the act, send his letter 

CHAPTER 14 Duties and Excises S4>5 

by a servant, a special messenger, or a friend if he thinks it cheaper 
or safer. 

“Q. But do they not consider the regulations of the post office, 
by the act of last year, as a tax? 

“A, By the regulations of last year the rate of postage was gen- 
erally abated near thirty per cent through all America; they cer- 
tainly cannot consider such abatement as a tax.” 

Grenville retreated before a self-evident fact. The opposition 
asked if the Americans would distinguish between an excise on 
goods consumed and a duty on goods imported. Franklin said they 
would. ‘'An excise is unconnected with any service done, and is 
merely an aid, which they think ought to be asked of them, and 
granted by them, if they are to pay it; and can be granted for them 
by no other persons whatsoever whom they have not empowered 
for that purpose.” 

“Q. You say they do not object to the right of Parliament in 
laying duties on goods to be paid on their importation. Now is 
there any kind of difference between a duty on the importation of 
goods and an excise on their consumption? 

Yes, a very material one. An excise, for the reasons I have 
just mentioned, they think you can have no right to lay within 
their country. But the sea is yours; you maintain by your fleets the 
safety of navigation on it and keep it clear of pirates; you may have 
therefore a natural and equitable right to some toll or duty on 
merchandise carried through that part of your dominions, towards 
defraying the expense you are at in ships to maintain the safety of 
that carriage. . . . 

“Q. Supposing the Stamp Act continued, and enforced, do you 
imagine that ill-humour will induce the Americans to give as much 
for worse manufactures of their own, and use them, preferably to 
better of ours? 

*'A. Yes, I think so. People will pay as freely to gratify one pas- 
sion as another, their resentment as their pride.” 

Franklin thought the act could not be enforced because the 
stamps could not be distributed. “The principal distributors, who 
were to have had a considerable profit on the whole, have not 
thought it worth while to continue in the office; and I think it 
impossible to find sub-distributors, fit to be trusted, who for the 

S46 Benjamin Franklin London 

trifling profit that must come to their share would incur the odium 
and run the hazard that would attend it; and if they could be 
found I think it impracticable to protect the stamps in so many 
distant and remote places. 

‘‘Q. But in places where they could be protected, would not the 
people use them rather than remain in such a situation, unable to 
obtain any right or recover by law any debt? 

''A. It is hard to say what they would do. I can only judge what 
other people will think and how they will act by what I feel within 
myself. I have a great many debts due to me in America, and I had 
rather they should remain unrecoverable by any law than submit 
to the Stamp Act. They will be debts of honour. In my opinion 
the people will either continue in that situation or find some way 
to extricate themselves; perhaps by generally agreeing to proceed 
in the courts without stamps.’' 

Once more friends intervened and pressed a point which most 
members did not want to face, 

'‘Q. What do you think a sufficient military force to protect the 
distribution of stamps in every part of America? 

‘A. A very great force; I can’t say what, if the disposition of 
America is for a general resistance, 

“Q. What is the number of men in America able to bear arms, 
or of disciplined militia? 

'A, There are, I suppose, at least ” 

The question was instantly objected to, and Franklin withdrew. 
When he came back the friends of repeal asked him miscellaneous 
questions about American manufactures until the opposition again 
took up their persistent theme. 

“Q. If the Stamp Act should be repealed would not the Amen 
leans think they could oblige the Parliament to repeal every 
external tax law now in force? 

'A. It is hard to answer questions of what people at such a 
distance will think. 

*'Q, But what do you imagine they will think were the motives 
of repealing the act? 

*A, I suppose they will think that it was repealed from a con- 
viction of its inexpediency; and they will rely upon it that while 

CHAPTER 14 Almo§l a Speech S 4 n 

the same inexpediency subsists you will never attempt to make 
such another/’ 

An adversary asked a muddled question and Franklin gave him 
a dry, sly answer that must have made the House laugh. 

If the act should be repealed, and the legislature should 
show its resentment to the opposers of the Stamp Act, would the 
colonies acquiesce in the authority of the legislature? What is your 
opinion they would do? 

''A, I don’t doubt at all that if the legislature repeal the act the 
colonies will acquiesce in the authority.” 

Then a friend, with a question to which Franklin’s answer was 
as near a speech as he ever made. 

But if the legislature should think fit to ascertain its right 
to lay taxes, by an act laying a small tax contrary to their opinion, 
would they submit to pay the tax? 

‘'A. The proceedings of the people in America have been con- 
sidered too much together. The proceedings of the assemblies 
have been very diflEerent from those of the mobs, and should be 
distinguished, as having no connexion with each other. The assem- 
blies have only peaceably resolved what they take to be their 
rights; they have taken no measures for opposition by force; they 
have not built a fort, raised a man, or provided a grain of ammuni- 
tion, in order to such opposition. The ringleaders of riots they 
think ought to be punished; they would punish them themselves 
if they could. . . . But as to an internal tax, how small soever, laid 
by the legislature here on the people there, while they have no 
representatives in this legislature, I think it will never be sub- 
mitted to. They will oppose it to the last. They do not consider it 
at all necessary for you to raise money on them by your taxes; 
because they are, and always have been, ready to raise money by 
taxes among themselves and to grant large sums, equal to their 
abilities, upon requisition from the Crown. . . . America has 
been greatly misrepresented and abused here, in papers and 
pamphlets and speeches, as ungrateful and unreasonable and un- 
just; in having put this nation to immense expense for their de- 
fence and refusing to bear any part of that expense. The colonies 
raised, paid, and clothed near 25,000 men during the last war; a 

S 48 Ben jamin Franklin London 

number equal to those sent from Britain, and far beyond their 
proportion; they went deeply into debt in doing this, and all their 
taxes and estates are mortgaged for many years to come for dis- 
charging that debt. Government here was at that time very sensible 
of this. The colonies were recommended to Parliament. Every year 
the king sent down to this House a written message to this pur- 
pose: that His Majesty, being highly sensible of the zeal and vigour 
with which his faithful subjects in North America had exerted 
themselves in defence of His Majesty’s just rights and possessions, 
recommended it to this House to take the same into consideration 
and enable him to give them a proper compensation. You will find 
those messages on your own journals every year of the war to the 
very last; and you did accordingly give £200,000 annually to the 
Crown, to be distributed in such compensation to the colonies, 

“This is the strongest of all proofs that the colonies, far from 
being unwilling to bear a share in the burden, did exceed their 
proportion; for if they had done less, or had only equalled their 
proportion, there would have been no room or reason for com- 
pensation. Indeed, the sums reimbursed them were by no means 
adequate to the expense they incurred beyond their proportion; 
but they never murmured at that; they esteemed their sovereign’s 
approbation of their zeal and fidelity, and the approbation of this 
House, far beyond any other kind of compensation.” 

Charles Townshend, paymaster of the forces in the Rockingham 
ministry, asked a question. 

“Q. But suppose Great Britain should be engaged in a war in 
Europe, would North America contribute to the support of it? 

I do think they would as far as their circumstances would 
permit. They consider themselves as a part of the British Empire, 
and as having one common interest with it; they may be looked on 
here as foreigners, but they do not consider themselves as such. 
They are zealous for the honour and prosperity of this nation; and, 
while they are well used, will always be ready to support it, as far 
as their little power goes. . . . They make no distinction of wars, 
as to their duty of assisting them. I know the last war is commonly 
spoke of here as entered into for the defence, or for the sake, of 
the people in America. I think it is quite misunderstood. It began 
about the limits between Canada and Nova Scotia; about terrr 


American Aid to Britain 


tories to which the Crown indeed laid claim but which were not 
claimed by any British colony; none of the lands had been granted 
to any colonist; we had therefore no particular concern or interest 
in that dispute. As to the Ohio, the contest there began about your 
right of trading in the Indian country, a right you had by the 
treaty of Utrecht, which the French infringed; they seized the 
traders and their goods, which were your manufactures; they took 
a fort which a company of your merchants and their factors and 
correspondents had erected there to secure that trade. Braddock 
was sent there with an army to retake that fort, which was looked 
on here as another encroachment on the king's territory, and to 
protect your trade. It was not till after his defeat that the colonies 
were attacked. They were before in perfect peace with both French 
and Indians; the troops were not, therefore, sent for their defence 

“The trade with the Indians, though carried on in America, is 
not an American interest. The people of America are chiefly farm- 
ers and planters; scarce anything that they raise or produce is an 
article of commerce with the Indians. The Indian trade is a British 
interest; it is carried on with British manufactures, for the profit 
of British merchants and manufacturers; therefore the war, as it 
commenced for the defence of territories of the Crown the prop- 
erty of no American, and for the defence of a trade purely British, 
was really a British war; and yet the people of America made no 
scruple of contributing their utmost towards carrying it on and 
bringing it to a happy conclusion.'' 

Nugent was shocked at hearing Franklin boldly turn the tables 
and call the recent war a British war, in which the British had 
rather been dutifully helped than magnanimously helping. “You 
will not deny," Nugent asked, “that the preceding war, the war 
with Spain, was entered into for the sake of America; was it not 
occasioned by captures made in the American seas?" “Yes," Frank- 
lin told him; “captures of ships carrying on the British trade there 
with British manufactures." (Again Nugent had been made to look 
silly. He “made a violent speech next day upon this examination, 
in which he said: ‘We have often experienced Austrian ingratitude, 
and yet we assisted Portugal; we experienced Portuguese ingrati- 
tude, and yet we assisted America. But what is Austrian ingratitude, 
^hat is the ingratitude of Portugal, compared to this of America? 

350 Benjamin Franklin londoi^ 

We have fought, bled, and ruined ourselves, to conquer for thera; 
and now they come and tell us to our noses, even at the bar of this 
House, that they were not obliged to us, etc/ But his clamour was 
very little minded, Franklin remembered. Nor did Nugent hold 
a grudge. '‘He took me home from court,'' Franklin wrote to his 
son two years later, "that I might dine with him, as he said, alone 
and talk over American affairs. . . . He gave me a great deal of 
flummery; saying that, though at my examination I answered some 
of his questions a little pertly, yet he liked me, from that day, for 
the spirit I showed in defence of my country; and at parting, after 
we had drank a bottle and a half of claret each, he hugged and 
kissed me, protesting he never in his life met with a man he was so 
much in love with."^^) 

Grenville insisted that the war with the Indians since the treaty 
with France had been a war for America only. Franklin firmly 
replied that it "was rather a consequence or remains of the former 
war, the Indians not having been thoroughly pacified." It had 
been fought and ended chiefly with American men and money. 
And Americans did not need British help against the Indians, 
"They defended themselves when they were but a handful and the 
Indians much more numerous. . • . They are very able to defend 

Welbore Ellis, member for Aylesbury, vice-treasurer of Ireland, 
asked constitutional questions and got constitutional answers. 

"Q. Do you think the assemblies have a right to levy money on 
the subject there, to grant to the Crown? 

"A. I certainly think so; they have always done so. 

"Q. Are they acquainted with the declaration of rights? And do 
they know that, by that statute, money is not to be raised on the 
subject but by consent of Parliament? 

They are very well acquainted with it. 

"Q. How then can they think they have a right to levy money 
for the Crown, or for any other than local purposes? 

They understand that clause to relate to subjects only 
within the realm; that no money can be levied on them for the 
Crown but by consent of Parliament. The colonies are not sup- 
posed to be within the realm; they have assemblies of their own, 
which are their parliaments, and they are, in that respect, in the 



The Rights of Englishmen 

same situation with Ireland. When money is to be raised for the 
Crown upon the subject in Ireland or in the colonies, the consent 
is given in the Parliament in Ireland or in the assemblies in the 
colonies. They think the Parliament of Great Britain cannot 
properly give that consent till it has representatives from America; 
for the petition of right expressly says it is to be by common con- 
sent in Parliament; and the people of America have no representa- 
tives in Parliament to make a part of that common consent.’’ 

Legally Franklin was here on ticklish ground, finding justifica- 
tion for the American stand less in the written law than in a doc- 
trine of natural rights. A little later, speaking of the Pennsylvanians 
under their charter but referring to Americans in general, he said 
that they were entitled “to all the privileges and liberties of Eng- 
lishmen”: among them, not to be taxed except by their own 
consent. An adversary pushed him to what now seems a prophetic 

“Q. Are there any words in that charter that justify that con- 

''A, "The common rights of Englishmen,’ as declared by Magna 
Charta and the petition of right, all justify it. 

“Q. Does the distinction between internal and external taxes 
exist in the words of the charter? 

“J. No, I believe not. 

“Q. Then may they not, by the same interpretation, object to 
the Parliament’s right of external taxation? 

They never have hitherto. Many arguments have been 
lately used here to show them that there is no difference, and that, 
if you have no right to tax them internally, you have none to tax 
them externally, or make any other law to bind them. At present 
they do not reason so; but in time they may possibly be convinced 
by these arguments.” 

Here was the dramatic last word of the examination, though 
friends and adversaries, adherents of both Grenville and Rocking- 
ham, asked a few more scattering questions, mostly going over 
ground already covered. “I have answered that,” Franklin quietly 
said to one of them. And at the very end came two questions and 
their answers which must have been rehearsed as if for the descend- 
ing curtain in a theatre. 

S52 Benjamin Franklin London 

‘‘Q. What used to be the pride of the Americans? 

'‘A. To indulge in the fashions and manufactures of Great 

‘‘Q. What is now their pride? 

''A. To wear their old clothes over again till they can make new 


This was on 13 February. On the 21st the repealing bill was 
moved. It passed the House, was carried through the Lords, and 
received the royal assent on 8 March. The repeal was so popular 
that in the happy tumult most people in both England and 
America paid little attention to the accompanying act which de- 
clared that Parliament had the right to enact laws binding the 
British colonies '‘in all cases whatsoever” — even taxes. The Rock- 
ingham ministry had made this compromise with their opponents. 
The king gave only a sullen assent to what he thought humiliating. 
Most of the Scotch, most of the bishops, most of the Tories voted 
against repeal. To get a majority the ministry had had to offer 
repeal as an expedient for an extraordinary occasion, yielded by 
Parliament without any surrender of its supreme authority. Parlia- 
ment, many members thought, must stand by its rights as the 
Americans by theirs. And, on another level of opinion, Parliament 
must save its face. 

“There are claimers enough,” Franklin told Charles Thomson 
on 27 September, “of merits in obtaining the repeal. But, if I live 
to see you, I will let you know what an escape we had in the 
beginning of the affair, and how much we were obliged to what 
the profane would call luck and the pious, Providence.”^^ If he 
ever told the story, with all its personal and political ins and outs, 
at least he never told it for the public. The chief credit belongs to 
the merchants trading to America. It was not wisdom that 
brought about the repeal, but interest. The petitions from America 
did less than the boycott there, with its effect on the sensitive 
nerves of British trade. Franklin’s wisdom included prudence. 
Talking about the rights of Americans, genuinely and profoundly 

CHAPTER 14 The Ma§ter of the Scene S6$ 

as he believed in them, he never forgot to tell the British that if 
they alienated the colonies they would lose more in trade than they 
would gain in taxes. This, backed by the petitions of the merchants 
and the trading towns, was the convincing argument of his 

But no other man alive could have delivered the argument as 
Franklin did. The most backward squire from the remotest county, 
the most obliging placeman chosen for a pocket borough, would 
have heard of Franklin the philosopher. Now here he was at the 
bar of the House, a philosopher who had the affairs of a conti- 
nent — from statistics to sentiments — ^at the end of his tongue. 
Nobody else had ever known or thought so much about America. 
The members could not surprise Franklin with any question for 
which he had not a reasoned and pointed answer. If they pressed 
him hard he was firm. If they tried to catch him he turned the 
answer deftly on the questioner. No matter how the discourse 
wandered, he brought it always back to simple fundamental 
points. When he was subtle he seemed only to be making those 
points scrupulously clear. He did not hurry or overwhelm his 
hearers with eloquence. Reasoning was his persuasion. Even 
though they disagreed with him, they admired his knowledge, 
assurance, spirit, and temper. And some of them must have valued 
the art of the scene which had been staged for them. 

Franklin, whose arts were silent ones, had never before spoken so 
long before so large an audience, and he never did again. His answers 
were hardly oratory, but they brought him an orator's triumph. 
The Rockingham ministry was grateful. Taken down as spoken, 
the Examination was published in London, the same year in 
Boston, New London, New York, Philadelphia (in German as well 
as English), and Williamsburg, and the next year in French at 
Strasbourg. In the jubilations over repeal in America Franklin was 
its hero. He had upheld the cause of America before Parliament 
and won a great victory for his countrymen. In Pennsylvania even 
the proprietary party had to admit some good in him. In Philadel- 
phia the coffee houses gave presents to every man on the ship that 
brought the news. Punch and beer were free to anybody who 
would drink the health of the king. Three hundred gentlemen in 
the State House, guests of the governor and the mayor, toasted 

354* Benjamin Franklin London 

Franklin and resolved that on the king's birthday in June they 
would all wear suits of British manufacture and give their home- 
spun to the poor. On the birthday the salutes were fired from a 
barge named the Franklin. 

“As the Stamp Act is at length repealed/' Franklin wrote to his 
wife on 6 April, “I am willing you should have a new gown, which 
you may suppose I did not send sooner as I knew you would not 
like to be finer than your neighbours unless in a gown of your own 
spinning. Had the trade between the two countries totally ceased, 
it was a comfort to me to recollect that I had once been clothed 
from head to foot in woollen and linen of my wife's manufacture, 
that I never was prouder of any dress in my life, and that she and 
her daughter might do it again if it was necessary. I told the Parlia- 
ment that it was my opinion, before the old clothes of the Amer- 
icans were worn out they might have new ones of their own 
making. And indeed if they had all as many clothes as your old 
man has, that would not be very unlikely, for I think you and 
George reckoned when I was last at home at least twenty pair of 
old breeches. Joking apart, I have sent you a fine piece of Pompa- 
dour satin, fourteen yards, cost eleven shillings a yard; a silk negli- 
gee and petticoat of brocaded lutestring for my dear Sally, with two 
dozen gloves, four bottles of lavender water." Mrs. Stevenson had 
again helped him to buy presents for his wife and daughter: lace, 
three ells of cambric, three damask tablecloths, crimson mohair for 
curtains, “a large true Turkey carpet cost ten guineas for the din- 
ing parlour," some oiled silk, and “a gimcrack corkscrew which 
you must get some brother gimcrack to show you the use of . ... I 
send you also a box with three fine cheeses. Perhaps a bit of them 
may be left when I come home."^^ 

The repeal quieted America, and most Americans seemed to be 
satisfied. Franklin was still uneasy. Repeal was patchwork legisla- 
tion. Nothing had been done to establish the imperial union which 
he saw as the basis of imperial harmony. In January, and perhaps 
before, he had come to doubt that there would ever be any such 
union. And on g May he wrote to Cadwallader Evans that it was 
now probably too late to hope for it. “The Parliament here do at 
present think too highly of themselves to admit representatives 
from us, if we should ask it; and, when they will be desirous of 


The Brazen Head S55 

granting it, we shall think too highly of ourselves to accept of it. It 
would certainly contribute to the strength of the xvhole if Ireland 
and all the dominions xvere united and consolidated under one 
common council for general purposes, each retaining its own 
particular council or parliament for its domestic concerns. But this 
should have been more early provided for. In the infancy of our 
foreign establishments it was neglected, or not thought of. And 
now the affair is nearly in the situation of Friar Bacon’s project of 
making a brazen wall round England for its eternal security. His 
servant, Friar Bungay, slept while the brazen head, xvhich was to 
dictate how it might be done, said 'Time is’ and 'Time was.’ He 
only waked to hear it say Time is past.’ An explosion followed that 
tumbled their house about the conjurer’s ears.”^^ 


D uring the winter of repeal Joseph Priestley came to 
London from Warrington, where he was classical tutor in 
a dissenting academy and had already begun his studies in elec- 
tricity and chemistry. Franklin, never too busy to help a young 
man of promise, undertook to furnish the books which Priestley 
needed for his history of electricity, and told him details of the kite 
experiment which had not been communicated to the Royal 
Academy: how Franklin had been waiting for a taller spire than 
Philadelphia had; how he had walked with his son to a field where 
there was a convenient shed; how he had seen one cloud pass over 
without effect and had begun to despair; and how he had felt an 
exquisite pleasure when his knuckle drew a spark from the key. 
Franklin read the manuscript of Priestley’s book as it was written, 
and had a hand in Priestley’s election to the Royal Academy. 
Priestley became one of the warmest friends of America. Franklin, 
after the repeal, had a little leisure for science. Beccaria had sent 
the Royal Society his account of new electrical experiments, 
through Franklin, and the Society asked him to return Beccaria its 
thanks- ‘1 am pleased to hear,” Franklin said, “that you read 
English although you do not write it. That is my case with the 
Italian. We can therefore correspond with greater facility, if it 
pleases you, each of us writing in his own language.”^ 

John Pringle, now Sir John and physician to the queen, went in 
June to Pyrmont in Hanover to drink the waters, famous for their 
iron, and Franklin with him. “I hope more from the air and exer- 
cise,” he wrote to his wife on 13 June, “having been used, as you 
know, to have a journey once a year, the want of which last year 
has I believe hurt me, so that though I was not quite to say sick 
I was often ailing last winter and through the spring. ... I pux- 

CHAPTER 15 Franklin in Hanover 357 

pose to leave him at Pyrmont and visit some of the principal cities 
nearest to it, and call for him again when the time for our return 
draws nigh'' — ^which must be within eight weeks because the 
queen was soon to be confined. They left London the next day. If 
the travellers separated, it was not for long. At Pyrmont, or some- 
where in Hanover, they met the prodigious Freiherr von Miinch- 
hausen, who had already retired from the wars to his estate at 
Bodenwerder and begun to amuse his friends with his stories; and 
they met also Rudolf Erich Raspe, who was later to make the stories 
famous in English as Baron Munchausen's.^ The baron gave 
Pringle and Franklin letters to various learned men at the Uni- 
versity of Gottingen, which George II had founded. 

The Royal Society of Sciences elected Franklin and Pringle to 
membership, and they attended a meeting at Gbttingen on 19 July. 
Hanover, like the colonies, had the same king as England, and the 
Hanoverians were full of questions. Franklin told Johann David 
Michaelis that the population of America doubled every twenty- 
five years. Michaelis thought, in spite of what Franklin said, that 
the colonies would sooner or later become independent. Interest 
would prove stronger than affection. They talked of the giant 
Patagonians about whom Franklin and Pringle had heard in 
London from John Byron, the poet's grandfather, just back from 
a voyage around the world. The prince of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt 
sent a messenger to carry his salutations to Franklin at Gottingen, 
but Franklin had gone. In Hanover the travellers visited Johann 
Friedrich Hartmann, head of the royal hospital, who showed them 
his powerful electrical apparatus. Franklin was interested in a 
contrivance called a pulse-glass, and took one back to London, 
where he arrived by the middle of August. Though he had been 
warmly received and had enjoyed his holiday, he seems to have got 
no notable new ideas and made no special friends. His chief sou- 
venir of the journey, besides his membership in the Hanoverian 
Royal Society, was his pulse-glass, copied and improved in London: 
^ sealed glass tube, half filled with water, in which the bubbles 
behaved in a way to astonish visiting philosophers and the water 
would boil from the heat of a hand holding one of the hollow 
glass balls at either end of the tube. 

Before going to Hanover Franklin had asked the Pennsylvania 

S5 8 Benjamin Franklin London 

Assembly to- let him return to America. They appointed him agent 
for another year, and he stayed on in Craven Street. His household 
was now larger by a child, another Sally Franklin. She and her 
father Thomas Franklin, a dyer in Leicestershire, were the only 
Franklins in England descended from the brothers who had not 
crossed the Atlantic. Her father ‘'brought her to town to see me in 
the spring, and Mrs. Stevenson persuaded him to leave the child 
under her care for a little schooling and improvement while I went 
abroad. When I returned I found her indeed much improved and 
grown a fine girl. She is sensible and of a sweet, obliging temper.'’^ 
Then thirteen, she lived most of the time in Craven Street, a 
second daughter to Franklin, till she was married seven years later 
to James Pearce, a young farmer who lived in Surrey, twelve miles 
from London, When not at school William Franklin’s illegitimate 
son Temple also was often with his hospitable grandfather. In 
July 1766 Franklin’s last brother, Peter, died in Philadelphia, 
and Franklin gave careful attention to the widow’s affairs. There 
had been a strain of poetry in Peter, as in other members of the 
family. In his old age he composed a ballad and sent it to his 
famous brother in London, asking him to have it set to music. 
Franklin thought that “if you had given it to some country girl 
in the heart of the Massachixsetts, who has never heard any other 
than psalm tunes or Chevy Chace, the Children in the Woods, the 
Spanish Lady, and such old simple ditties, but has naturally a good 
ear, she might more probably have made a pleasing popular tune 
for you than any of our masters here and more proper for your 

For years Franklin had been open-handed to his brothers and 
sisters, his cousins, nephews, and nieces, but now at sixty he him- 
self was worried about money. The partnership with David Hall 
ended in 1766, and with it an annual five hundred pounds or so. 
“A great source of our income is cut off,” Franklin wrote to his 
wife on June 1767; “and if I should lose the post office, which 
among the many changes here is far from being unlikely, we 
should be reduced to our rents and interests of money for a sub* 
sistence, which will by no means afford the chargeable housekeep- 
ing and entertainments we have been used to. For my own part 
I live here as frugally as passible not to be destitute of the comforts 

CHAPTER 15 Sally Franklin Married S59 

of life, making no dinners for anybody and contenting myself with 
a single dish when I dine at home; and yet such is the dearness of 
living here in every article that my expenses amaze me. I see too 
by the sums you have received in my absence that yours are very 
great, and I am very sensible that your situation naturally brings 
you a great many visitors, which occasion an expense not easily to 
be avoided, especially when one has been long in the practice and 
habit of it. But when people’s incomes are lessened, if they cannot 
proportionably lessen their outgoings they must come to poverty. 
If we were young enough to begin business again it might be an- 
other matter; but I doubt we are past it; and business not well 
managed ruins one faster than no business/’ 

In the circumstances they could not, Franklin thought, do more 
than fit their daughter ''handsomely out in clothes and furniture, 
not exceeding in the whole five hundred pounds of value,” on her 
marriage with Richard Bache. Bache, born in Yorkshire, was r 
merchant thirty years old who had come to Philadelphia from New 
York. William thought him a fortune-hunter, and so wrote to 
London. But Bache won Sally’s heart and her mother’s consent, 
which Franklin, who did not know him, ratified. "I can only say 
that if he proves a good husband to her, and a good son to me, he 
shall find me as good a father as I can be. . . . For the rest, they 
must depend as you and I did, on their own industry and care.”^ 
If Bache’s business did not justify an early marriage, Sally might 
come to London and return with her father, Franklin suggested 
on 5 August. But Sally, twenty-four, handsome, robust (when she 
oidered gloves from London she asked for the largest size), blond 
like her father and high-coloured like her mother, remained in 
Philadelphia and was married in October. The ships in the har- 
bour ran up their flags to celebrate the wedding. 

Franklin’s anxieties did not last too long. He kept his place in 
the post office and his agency for Pennsylvania, and was successively 
chosen agent also for Georgia in 1768, for New Jersey in 1769, and 
for Massachusetts in 1770. The total salaries, sometimes paid 
months or even years late, amounted to £ 1 500, which more than 
made up for the Hall partnership, though Franklin freely spent 
his own money in the service of his missions. If the Revolution had 
been longer delayed, or had not come, he would probably have 

360 Benjamin Franklin London 

been agent-general for the colonies. In effect he was that. He was 
an ambassador from America before America had the right to 
send one. 


Nothing should be clearer about the Revolution than that the 
English colonists had ceased to be British before they realized it. 
Their whole history had bred in them a sense of differentiation 
and self-sufficiency which guided their instincts even against their 
wills. Their wills drove them to protest their loyalty, which indeed 
was supported by many pleasant sentiments. But they had left the 
old country out of one discontent or another, and neither success 
nor failure in the new entirely reconciled them to what they had 
left behind. In America they had all been shaped by other ways of 
life to other habits, and some of them to other conscious precepts. 
No prince of the blood, hardly a lord temporal or spiritual, had 
accompanied the migration. The feudal impulses withered awa} 
in America. The British government looked upon the colonies 
almost purely as an asset, until iy6o not a very valuable one, and 
ran them, badly, like a business. They had ill luck with too many 
of the soldiers they first sent out — the bungling Braddock and the 
dilatory Loudoun — and the colonial governors were likely to be 
inferior in everything but rank to the Americans opposed to them. 
As late as 1768, when the imperial government needed prestige in 
America as never before, they sent Lord Botetourt, amiable but 
showy, fraudulent, and dishonoured, to hold Virginia against 
Washington, Jefferson, and George Mason. There were of course 
better soldiers and governors from Britain than these. But no num- 
ber of able military or political administrators could have corrected 
the grievance which the Americans came increasingly to feel they 
had in the British commercial policy. 

To use a later term, they felt increasingly after 1763 that they 
were exploited through the regulation of their trade and the 
restraint of their manufactures. Because exploitation had long 
been the rule of the colonial system and had only begun to be 
scrutinized, the colonists had at the outset no full and logical array 


Economics and Politics 


of reasons to bring against it. Economics had not yet evolved 
a language which was authoritative and widely understood. The 
Americans in their dissatisfaction had to fall back — at least did 
fall back — upon the language of politics, and talked about consti- 
tutions, the privileges of subjects, the rights of man. Such matters 
seemed to them, whether they reflected or not, more dignified than 
the matter which lay at the back of their minds: that Americans 
were forced to work for British profits. Feeling partly on one plane, 
and almost always talking on another, they were sometimes contra- 
dictory. Their rich and lofty political eloquence clouded their eco- 
nomic realism. The British could answer this American eloquence 
as much as they liked, but the Americans were still vigilant and 
unyielding to encroachment upon their liberty and to trespass 
upon their property. To touch their ways of making a living was 
to touch their ways of life. 

Parliament too was stubborn. Nothing could shake the convic- 
tion of the majority that the colonies were selfishly refusing to pay 
their share of the imperial expenses, which they could well afford 
and ought to pay. The landowners who had conceded the repeal 
of the Stamp Act, under pressure from the British manufacturers 
and merchants, knew that though trade might be better because of 
repeal the land taxes would be higher. They felt a double resent- 
ment toward the colonies, with their petitions and riots. The feel- 
ing grew that it was time to take the colonies in hand, tax them as 
they deserved, and keep them in order. The Rockingham ministry 
went out in July 1766, while Franklin was in Hanover. The king 
and Pitt, now Lord Chatham, agreed upon a coalition cabinet 
which, in spite of Pitt, had as little character as any in English 
history. To make the trouble worse, Chatham was overwhelmed 
by his old malady the gout. “It is said that his constitution is 
totally destroyed and gone,'* Franklin wrote to Cadwallader Evans 
on 5 May 1767, “partly through the violence of the disease and 
partly through his own quacking with it.”® During his illness the 
leadership of the government was deftly seized by the adroit 
Charles Townshend, chancellor of the exchequer, who had voted 
both for the Stamp Act and for its repeal, and who in January 1767 
light-heartedly promised the House of Commons that he would 
find revenue in America for its own military establishment, fox 


362 Benjamin Franklin 

the benefit of the land tax at home. His colleagues in the ministry, 
who had made no such plans, were too much surprised to check 
him. One of the most irresponsible politicians in England almost 
single-handed set going a fantastic series of political blunders. 

What made it possible was not only that Chatham had lost the 
reins but also that there was exasperating netvs from America. New 
York had refused to provide for the British soldiers sent there by 
the Quartering Act which had been a part of Grenville’s policy. 
Headquarters for the American forces, the province had been 
asked to support several regiments, much more than its share, not 
because they were needed for its defence but because it was con- 
venient to keep them at a strategic point, for use in Canada, the 
frontier, or the West Indies. The New York Assembly would not 
vote the money asked for. Parliament was at once in a mood to 
back Townshend. In May he brought in his dangerous measures. 
The New York Assembly was to be suspended; that is, the governor 
was forbidden to give his assent to any legislation till the soldiers 
were provided for. Commissioners for the customs w^ere to be sent 
from England to America, to be sure the duties were collected. 
New duties were to be laid on glass, painters’ colours, paper, and 
tea. The annual revenue, estimated at less than £40,000, was to 
go to the Crown for a civil list to pay governors and judges. This 
would make administration easier, and would make places for the 

Franklin saw every sign of danger ahead. The import duties, 
though laid as external taxes, were plainly for revenue. Money 
taken from the Americans, without their consent, would pay 
British officials to govern the colonies without dependence on 
their legislatures. This was not the road to imperial unity. The 
two countries were slipping farther and farther apart. “It becomes 
a matter of great importance,” Franklin wrote to Lord Karnes on 
1 1 April, “that clear ideas should be formed on solid principles, 
both in Britain and America, of the true political relation between 
them and the mutual duties belonging to that relation. ... I am 
fully persuaded, with you,, that a consolidating union, by a fair and 
equal representation of all the parts of this empire in Parliament, 
is the only firm basis on which its political grandeur and prosperity 
can be founded. Ireland once wished it, but now rejects it. The 

CHAPTER 15 A Consolidating Union 36S 

time has been when the colonies might have been pleased with it; 
they are now indiiBFerent about it; and if it is much longer delayed 
they too will refuse it. But the pride of this people cannot bear the 
thought of it, and therefore it will be delayed. Every man in 
England seems to consider himself as a piece of a sovereign over 
America; seems to jostle himself into the throne with the king, 
and talks of 'our subjects in the colonies/ The Parliament cannot 
well and wisely make laws suited to the colonies without being 
properly and truly informed of their circumstances, abilities, 
temper, etc. This it cannot be without representatives from thence; 
and yet it is fond of this power and averse to the only means of 
acquiring the necessary knowledge for exercising it; which is desir- 
ing to be omnipotent without being omniscient. . . . 

"I have lived so great a part of my life in Britain, and formed so 
many friendships in it, that I love it and sincerely wish it pros- 
perity; and therefore wish to see that union, on which alone I think 
it can be secured and established. As to America, the advantages 
of such a union to her are not so apparent. She may suffer at pres- 
ent under the arbitrary power of this country; she may suffer 
awhile in a separation from it; but these are temporary evils that 
she will outgrow. Scotland and Ireland are differently circum- 
stanced. Confined by the sea, they can scarcely increase in numbers, 
wealth, and strength so as to overbalance England. But America, 
an immense territory, favoured by nature with all advantages of 
climate, soil, great navigable rivers, and lakes, etc., must become a 
great country, populous and mighty; and will, in a less time than 
is generally conceived, be able to shake off shackles that may be 
imposed on her and perhaps place them on the imposers. In the 
meantime, every act of oppression will sour their tempers, lessen 
greatly — if not annihilate — the profits of your commerce with 
them, and hasten their final revolt; for the seeds of liberty are uni- 
versally found there, and nothing can eradicate them. And yet 
there remains among that people so much respect, veneration, and 
affection for Britain that, if cultivated prudently, with kind usage 
and tenderness for their privileges, they might be easily governed 
stiU for ages, without force or any considerable expense. But I do 
not see here a sufficient quantity of the wisdom that is necessary to 
produce such a conduct, and I lament the want of 

564 Benjamin Franklin London 

(The letter did not reach Lord Karnes. It had possibly been 
intercepted by the authorities, who had begun to think it prudent 
to keep an eye on Franklin.) 

It was hard for him to admit that there was not enough wisdom 
tor his imperial design, or perhaps that wisdom was not enough. 
He still did not lose hope. But there were immediate concerns to 
occupy him from day to day. Even before the Stamp Act had been 
passed, early in 1765, he seems to have proposed to Grenville the 
issue of an American paper currency, to bear interest which would 
help the British to meet their American expenses. '‘This I then 
thought would be a lighter and more bearable tax than the stamps, 
because those that pay it have an equivalent in the use of the 
money; and that it would at the same time furnish us with a cur- 
rency which we much wanted/’® The plan would not have been 
more acceptable to the Americans than the Stamp Act itself, for it 
was essentially another internal tax. It is fortunate that Franklin 
kept the matter of his proposal a secret except from Joseph Gallo- 
way, who told it only to William Franklin. Franklin’s enemies in 
Pennsylvania would have found it another proof that he had capit- 
ulated to the ministry. He gave up the idea that the American cur- 
rency might bear interest, and by June 1767 had assured the 
Chatham-Townshend ministry that "no colony would make money 
on those terms, and that the benefits arising to the commerce of 
this country [England] in America from a plentiful currency 
would therefore be lost.” But he worked for the repeal of the act 
which restrained paper money in America, and which was not 

Franklin was closer to the Earl of Shelburne, secretary of state 
for the colonies, than he had ever been to any British minister. 
Shelburne was young and generous, a friend to America, and an 
admirer of the philosopher who was twice his age. The minister, 
who had a spacious programme for new colonies in the western 
territory, some time in 1767 showed Franklin a plan for dealing 
with the Indians who would be affected; and the philosopher 
commented on it, America was larger, he quietly suggested, than 
the British realized. "The Indians under the care of the northern 
superintendent border on the colonies of Nova Scotia, Quebec, 
New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New 

CHAPTER 15 Officials and Indiam 365 

Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia; the superintendent’s 
residence, remote from several of these, may occasion great incon- 
venience if his consent is always to be necessary.” As to the scheme 
for having a chief from each tribe living constantly at the com- 
missary: ‘‘Provision must then be made for his maintenance, as 
particular Indians have no estates, but live by hunting, and their 
public has no funds. Being used to rambling, it would perhaps not 
be easy to find one who would be obliged to this constant resi- 

Nor would it be easy to fix prices. “There may be differences of 
fineness, goodness, and value in the goods of different traders, and 
the like in the peltry of different Indians, that cannot be properly 
allowed for by general tariffs. It seems contrary to the nature of 
commerce for government to interfere in the prices of commod- 
ities. Trade is a voluntary thing between buyer and seller, in every 
article of which each exercises his own judgment and is to please 
himself. Suppose either trader or Indian is dissatisfied with the 
tariff and refuses barter on those terms; are the refusers to be com- 
pelled?” Debts, Franklin thought, could hardly be collected in the 
forest as in England. “The Indian trade, so far as credit is con- 
cerned, has hitherto been carried on wholly upon honour. They 
have among themselves no such thing as prisons or confinement 
for debt. . . . Our legal method of compulsion is by imprison- 
ment. The Indians cannot and will not imprison one another; and 
if we attempt to imprison them I apprehend it would be generally 
disliked by the nations, and occasion breaches. They have such 
high ideas of personal liberty, and such slight ones of the value of 
personal property, that they would think the disproportion mon- 
strous between the liberty of a man and a debt of a few shillings; 
and that it would be excessively inequitable and unjust to take 
away the one for a default in payment of the other. . . . Debts of 
honour are generally paid as well as any other debts. Where no 
compulsion can be used, it is more disgraceful to be dishonest.”® 

Franklin had something besides a philosopher’s interest in these 
matters. White settlers were pressing over the mountains into the 
lands assigned to the Indians by the British government in 1763. 
George Croghan, the Indian trader, had in 1765 proposed to Sir 
William Johnson, the Indian superintendent, that a company be 

S 66 Benjamin Franklin lo n i>o n 

formed to buy land of the French settlers still in Illinois- Thomas 
Gage, commander-in-chief in America, liked the project hut 
thought he must not be a partner. In 1766 the members of the 
Philadelphia firm of Baynton, Wharton & Morgan, merchants 
trading to the Indian country, met with Joseph Galloway, William 
Franklin, John Hughes, and Croghan to organize the venture. 
William Franklin, who was a politician, suggested that instead of 
buying land from the French they petition the British Crown for 
it. They then or later decided to ask for a tract of 1,200,000 acres 
within the territory bounded by the Ohio, Mississippi, Wisconsin, 
and Wabash rivers and agree to settle one white Protestant person 
there for every hundred acres. They invited Johnson, a Crown 
officer, to join them, and Franklin in London, who was to find 
English investors and present the scheme to the ministry- Here 
was something like Franklin's old plan for barrier colonies in the 
form of a speculation. 

Shelburne thought with Franklin about the need and im- 
portance of extending the Empire westward. The boundary be- 
tween the Indians and the whites would be fixed — ^without too 
much attention to the wishes of the Indians — and colonies estab- 
lished. In August 1767 Franklin dined with Shelburne and one 
other guest, General Henry Seymour Conway, who had moved the 
repeal of the Stamp Act and was now a secretary of state. The two 
friendly ministers told Franklin that they thought of taking tlie 
management of Indian affairs out of the hands of the Crown and 
returning it to the separate colonies- “I took the opportunity," 
Franklin wrote to his son on the 24th, ''of urging it as one means of 
saving expense in supporting the outposts, that a settlement should 
be made in the Illinois country," expatiated on the various advan- 
tages, viz., furnishing provisions cheaper to the garrisons, securing 
the country, retaining the trade, raising a strength there which, on 
occasion of a future war, might easily be poured down the 
Mississippi upon the lower country and into the Bay of Mexico, 
to be used against Cuba or Mexico itself. I mentioned your plan, 
its being approved by Sir William Johnson, the readiness and 
ability of the gentlemen concerned to carry the settlement into 
execution, with very little expense to the Crown, etc. The secre- 
taries appeared finally to be fuUy convinced, and there remained 


FirH to France 


no obstacle but the Board of Trade, which was to be brought over 
privately before the matter should be referred to them officially.”^® 


A week later the lobbyist left England to be a philosopher in 
France. He travelled again with his “steady, good friend” Pringle, 
and took with him many letters of introduction from Durand oi 
the French legation in London. Durand was “extremely curious to 
inform himself in the affairs of America,” Franklin wrote the day 
he set out from London; “pretends to have a great esteem for me, 
on account of the al?ilities shown in my examination; has desired 
to have all my political writings, invited me to dine with him, was 
very inquisitive, treated me with great civility, makes me visits, 
etc. I fancy that intriguing nation would like very well to meddle 
on occasion, and blow up the coals between Britain and her coh 
onies; but I hope we shall give them no opportunity.”^^ 

As Franklin had written for Polly Stevenson some of his best 
scientific observations, so now on 14 September he wrote her the 
best account of his journey. “All the way to Dover we were fun 
nished with post chaises, hung so as to lean forward, the top coming 
down over one’s eyes like a hood as if to prevent one’s seeing the 
country; which being one of my great pleasures, I was engaged in 
perpetual disputes with the inn-keepers, hostlers, and postilions, 
about getting the straps taken up a hole or so before and let down 
as much behind, they insisting that the chaise leaning forward 
was an ease to the horses and that the contrary would kill them. 
I suppose the chaise leaning forward looks to them like a willing- 
ness to go forward, and that its hanging back shows a reluctance. 
They added other reasons that were no reasons at all, and made 
me, as upon a hundred other occasions, almost wish that mankind 
had never been endowed with a reasoning faculty, since they know 
so little how to make use of it and so often mislead themselves by 
it; and that they had been furnished with a good sensible instinct 
instead of it.” 

From Dover they crossed to Calais. “Various impositions we 
suffered from boatmen, porters, etc., on both sides the water. J 

S6S j^enjamin Franklin London 

know not which are most rapacious, the English or the French, but 
the latter have, with their knavery, the most politeness. The roads 
we found equally good with ours in England, in some places paved 
with smooth stone, like our new streets, for many miles together, 
and rows of trees on each side, yet there are no turnpikes. But 
then the poor peasants complained to us grievously that they were 
obliged to work upon the roads full two months in the year, with- 
out being paid for their labour. Whether this is truth, or whether 
like Englishmen they grumble cause or no cause, I have not yet 
been fully able to inform myself.” 

He noticed that most of the women were dark, though in Paris 
some of them were fair, ''who I think are not whitened by art.” 
Polly would be interested in the Paris fashions, and Franklin was 
interested in everything. "As to rouge, they don't pretend to imi- 
tate nature in laying it on. There is no gradual diminution of the 
colour, from the full bloom in the middle of the cheek to the faint 
tint near the sides, nor does it show differently in different faces. 
I have not had the honour of being at any lady’s toilet to see how 
it is laid on, but I fancy I can tell you how it is or may be done. Cut 
a hole of three inches diameter in a piece of paper; place it on the 
side of your face in such a manner as that the top of the hole may 
be just under your eye; then with a brush dipped in the colour 
paint face and paper together; so when the paper is taken off there 
will remain a round patch of red exactly the form of the hole. This 
is the mode, from the actresses on the stage upwards through all 
ranks of ladies to the princesses of the blood; but it stops there, 
the queen not using it, having in the serenity, complacence, and 
benignity that shine so eminently in — or rather through — ^her 
countenance, sufficient beauty, though now an old woman, to do 
extremely well without it. 

"You see I speak of the queen as if I had seen her, and so I have; 
for you must know I have been at court. We went to Versailles last 
Sunday and had the honour of being presented to the king; he 
spoke to both of us very graciously and cheerfully, is a handsome 
man, has a very lively look, and appears younger than he is. In the 
evening we were at the grand convert, where the family sup in 
public. . . . The table was . . . half a hollow square, the service 
gold. . . . Their distance from each other was such as that other 

Franklin at Versailles 



chairs might have been placed between any two of them [the king 
and queen and four daughters]. An officer of the court brought us 
up through the crowd of spectators, and placed Sir John so as to 
stand between the king and Madame Adelaide and me between the 
queen and Madame Victoire. The king talked a good deal to Sii 
John, asking many questions about our royal family; and did me 
too the honour of taking some notice of me. That’s saying enough, 
for I would not have you think me so much pleased with this king 
and queen as to have a whit less regard than I used to have for 
ours No Frenchman shall go beyond me in thinking my own king 
and queen the very best in the world, and the most amiable.” 

Franklin thought Versailles splendid but ill-kept. ''The water- 
works are out of repair, and so is great part of the front next the 
town, looking, with its shabby half-brick walls and broken win- 
dows, not much better than the houses in Durham Yard. There 
is, in short, both at Versailles and Paris a prodigious mixture of 
magnificence and negligence, with every kind of elegance except 
that of cleanliness and what we call tidiness. Though I must do 
Paris the justice to say that in two points of cleanliness they exceed 
us. The water they drink, though from the river, they render as 
pure as that of the best spring by filtering it through cisterns filled 
with sand; and the streets by constant sweeping are fit to walk in, 
though there is no paved footpath.” More people walked in Paris 
than in London, he noticed, and the streets were not crowded with 
coaches and chairs. Umbrellas were carried by both men and 
women. The stones of the pavements, "being generally cubes, 
when worn on one side may be turned and become new.” 

Paris might look untidy to Franklin, used to Philadelphia and 
Boston, but he thought French manners better than English. "It 
seems to be a point settled here universally that strangers are to 
be treated with respect; and one has just the same deference shown 
here by being a stranger as in England by being a lady. The custom 
house officers at Porte St. Denis, as we entered Paris, were about to 
seize two dozen of excellent Bordeaux wine given us at Boulogne 
and which we had brought with us; but, as soon as they found we 
were strangers, it was immediately remitted on that account. At 
the church of Notre Dame, where we went to see a magnificent 
illumination, with figures, etc., for the deceased Dauphiness, we 

B 70 Benjamin Franklin London 

found an immense crowd who were kept out by guards; but, the 
officer being told that we were strangers from England, he im- 
mediately admitted us, accompanied us, and showed us everything. 
Why don’t we practise this urbanity to Frenchmen? Why should 
they be allowed to outdo us in anything?” 

He had seen an exhibition of pictures, but did not feel “con- 
noisseur enough to judge which has most merit.” He had been to 
theatres to hear plays and operas. “Though the weather has been 
hot, and the houses full, one is not incommoded by the heat so 
much as with us in winter. They must have some way of changing 
the air that we are not acquainted with. I shall inquire into it.” 
Quadrille was out of fashion, “and English whisk all the mode at 
Paris and the court.” 

“Travelling,” he reflected, “is one way of lengthening life, at 
least in appearance. It is but about a fortnight since we left 
London, but the variety of scenes we have gone through makes it 
seem equal to six months living in one place. Perhaps I have suf- 
fered a greater change, too, in my own person than I could have 
done in six years at home. I had not been here six days before 
my tailor and perruquier had transformed me into a French- 
man. Only think what a figure I make in a little bag-wig and 
naked ears! They told me I was become twenty years younger, and 
looked very galante. So, being in Paris, where the mode is to be 
sacredly followed, I was once very near making love to my friend’s 

It may be guessed that Durand of the legation in London had a 
good deal to do with the courtesy which Franklin was shown by 
the French officials. But as scientist he needed no official recom- 
mendations. “The time I spent in Paris and in the improving con- 
versation and agreeable society of so many learned and ingenious 
men” afterwards seemed to him “like a pleasing dream from which 
I was sorry to be awaked by finding myself again at London.”^^ 
D’Alibard, who had first carried out Franklin’s suggestion and had 
got lightning from a cloud, and his wife delighted Franklin with 
many hospitalities. There were French scientists who were proud 
to be known as and Joseph-Etienne Berthier declared 

that France was as much Franklin’s country as England: a father 
was in his own country when his children lived there. (Franklin the 

CHAPTER 15 The Physiocrats 371 

next year furthered Berthier’s election to the Royal Society.) At 
the house of the Marquis de Courtanvaux, soldier and member of 
the French Academy of Sciences, Franklin met the Abbe Chappe 
d’Auteroche, astronomer and traveller, and told him of the ele- 
phant [mastodon] tusks and teeth which George Croghan had 
shipped to London from the Ohio country, (After Franklin's re- 
turn he sent one of the teeth to the abb4 and asked if any like it 
had been found in Siberia.) 

At the request of his friends in Paris Franklin wrote a paper 
on lightning and the way Americans secured their houses from 
it.^^ He began with the clearest statement of the general principles 
involved and ended with the homeliest advice. '‘A person appre- 
hensive of danger from lightning, happening during the time of 
thunder to be in a house not so secured, will do well to avoid sit- 
ting near the chimney, near a looking-glass, or any gilt picture oi 
wainscot; the safest place is in the middle of the room (so it be not 
under a metal lustre suspended by a chain), sitting in one chair and 
laying the feet up in another. It is still safer to bring two or three 
mattresses or beds [then usually feathers] into the middle of the 
room and, folding them double, place the chair upon them; for, 
they not being so good conductors as the walls, the lightning will 
not choose an interrupted course through the air of the room and 
bedding when it can go through a continued better conductor 
the wall. But where it can be had, a hammock or swinging bed sus- 
pended by silk cords equally distant from the walls on every side 
and from the ceiling and floor above and below affords the safest 
situation a person can have in any room whatever; and what in- 
deed may be deemed quite free from danger of any stroke by 

To Franklin the most important friends he made in Paris were 
not electricians but economists. During the first week in October, 
just before he left for London, he met Fran^jois Quesnay, physi- 
cian to the king, and leader of the school which the next year 
began to be called the physiocrats. Franklin missed seeing Pierre- 
Samuel du Pont de Nemours, the member of the group who gave 
it its name, but he enjoyed the “civilities" of the Marquis de Mira- 
beau (father of the revolutionary orator). Franklin had hitherto, 
it seems, heard little about the physiocrats, or they about him. 

372 Benjamin Franklin London 

Economics, as a science, stood almost where electricity had stood 
twenty years before. But the French economists admired Franklin 
as a philosopher, and they had read the report of his examination 
before the House of Commons. They greeted him as a kind of 
living document from America. He found that they had reduced 
to something like a system the world of economic phenomena in 
which he had made random independent observations. Opinions 
which had hitherto moved separately through his mind were pre- 
cipitated into order. 

Within a few months he could write in a letter to Philadelphia, 
as his own opinion, what was essentially an epitome of the physio- 
cratic doctrine. ‘‘After all, this country [England] is fond of manu- 
factures beyond their real value, for the true source of riches is 
husbandry. Agriculture is truly productive of new wealth; manu- 
facturers only change forms and, whatever value they give to the 
materials they work upon, they in the meantime consume an equal 
value in provisions, etc. So that riches are not increased by manu- 
facturing; the only advantage is that provisions in the shape of 
manufactures are more easily carried for sale to foreign markets.’’^^ 
And a year later he drew his new conclusions to the sharpest point. 
“There seem to be but three ways for a nation to acquire wealth. 
The first is by war, as the Romans did, in plundering their con- 
quered neighbours. This is robbery. The second by commerce, 
which is generally cheating. The third by agriculture, the only 
honest way, wherein man receives a real increase of the seed 
thrown into the ground, in a kind of continual miracle.'’^^ 

Here was more than doctrine for Franklin. As he lost hope in 
the imperial union on which he had set his heart, he came to be 
dramatically aware of differences between Britain and America. 
The trouble was not only that they were far apart in miles, but also 
that they were forced by nature to be unlike. The boundless con- 
tinent could live by agriculture, the true source of prosperity, 
while the narrow islands must confine themselves largely to manu- 
factures and trading. It would be increasingly hard, Franklin 
thought, to reconcile the two interests. And his thinking as well 
as his feeling inclined him more and more to the side of the 
Americans. French economics had done as much to win him away 
from England as French politeness. 


Lord J^orth in Office 



On his way to London he was delayed for a week at Calais, b} 
bad weather in the Channel, and wished he had spent the week in 
Paris. He found in London that there had been changes in the 
ministry. Townshend had died in September, to be succeeded by 
Lord North, who was in effect the king’s agent in the House of 
Commons. George III had got the government firmly in his own 
hands, and by the aid of patronage and bribes could command a 
Parliamentary majority. Conway, always friendly to America, left 
office, and Shelburne, Franklin’s young friend, gave up the manage- 
ment of American affairs to Lord Hillsborough, who had less 
interest in western colonies. The new commissioners of customs 
under the Townshend acts had sailed for Boston, instructed to put 
an end to smuggling and collect the duties which were to furnish a 
revenue from the stubborn colonies. 

Franklin resumed his quiet, ceaseless efforts in behalf of America 
which led Josiah Tucker, dean of Gloucester, to declare that “Dr. 
Franklin wanted to remove the seat of government to America; 
that, says he, is his constant plan.”^’’ On 24 November Franklin 
published a paper On Smuggling^^ which, while he called it steal- 
ing, he said was hardly confined to America. The English never 
hesitated to avoid payment of duties when they could, even though 
they had made their own laws, as the Americans had not. “When I 
hear them exclaiming against the Americans, and, for every little 
infringement on the acts of trade or obstruction given by a petty 
mob to an officer of our customs in that country, calling for ven- 
geance against the whole people as rebels and traitors, I cannot 
help thinking that there are still those in the world who can see a 
mote in their brother’s eye while they do not discern a beam in 
their own.” Toward the end of the year Franklin was once some- 
where “in a large company in which were some members of Par- 
liament.” There he gave “satisfaction to all by what I alleged in 
explanation of the conduct of the Americans, and, to show that 
they were not quite so unreasonable as they appeared to be, I was 
advised by several present to make my sentiments public, not only 

Benjamin Franklin London 

for the sake of America but as it would be some ease to our friends 
here.’’^^ On 7 January he contributed to Strahan’s London Chron- 
icle his famous Causes of the American Discontents before 

Griffith Jones, the editor of the Chronicle, was cautious. ‘‘He 
has drawn the teeth and pared the nails of my paper,” Franklin 
wrote his son two days later, “so that it can neither scratch nor bite. 
It seems only to paw and mumble.”^^ Where Franklin had said 
that the Stamp Act “odiously militated” against American senti- 
ments he was made to say merely “militated.” His expression “an 
officious governor,” referring to Bernard of Massachusetts, became 

‘‘a G ^r.” His “force money from you” was changed to “raise 

money on you.” Governors, he had written, were “frequently” 
men of vicious characters; his adverb was printed as “sometimes.” 
In place of “new duties, professedly for such disagreeable, and to 
them appearing dangerous purposes,” the Chronicle had only “new 
duties professedly for such disagreeable purposes.” “The late Chan- 
cellor of the Exchequer, desirous of ingratiating himself with the 
opposition, or driven to it by their clamours,” appeared as “a per- 
son lately in high office,” since Grenville was still alive. The 
“frivolous complaint” of the Virginia merchants was modified to 
the “slight complaint.” The editor struck out entirely Franklin's 
comment on the sending of convicts to the plantations: “an insult 
aggravated by that barbarous, ill-placed sarcasm in a report of the 
Board of Trade, when one of the provinces complained of the act. 
‘It is necessary that it should be continued for the better peopling 
of Your Majesty's colonies.' ” (Or so the original is thought to 
have read, on the evidence of the fuller version published in 
America in 1774 as The Causes of the Present Distractions in 
America Explained: in Two Letters to a Merchant in London. 
By F B .) 

Even in that fuller version (here exactly followed instead of the 
Chronicle's, which all Franklin's editors have reprinted) the Causes 
meant to be conciliatory. It had in the Chronicle no signature but 
the F-fiS which Franklin sometimes used in his propaganda, nor 
was it clearly ojQfered as the work of an American. But it took for its 
motto a sentence (slightly misquoted and called a proverb) from 
Franklin's Canada pamphlet of eight years before: “The waves 
never rise hut when the winds blow.” And it kept close to the 

CHAPTER 15 The Present Discontents SI 5 

position he had held before the Commons. He went over the 
familiar arguments discreetly, not so much asserting them as ex- 
plaining to the English what the Americans thought and why they 
thought so. 'T do not undertake here to support these opinions of 
the Americans; they have been refuted by a late act of Parliament, 
declaring its own power; which very Parliament, however, showed 
wisely so much tender regard to those inveterate prejudices as to 
repeal a tax that had odiously militated against them. And those 
prejudices are still so fixed and rooted in the Americans that, it is 
supposed, not a single man among them has been convinced of 
his error, by that act of Parliament.” 

He explained that the Americans, though willing to vote taxes 
in their assemblies upon proper requisition from the Crown, in- 
curably believed that their right to grant their own money was 
“essential to English liberty.” They had been pleased by the repeal 
of the Stamp Act into adapting themselves to the Quartering Act, 
which they looked upon as a temporary measure. But the Town- 
shend acts, expressly intended to raise money for the support of 
the Crown officials in America and so make them independent of 
the assemblies, appeared to the Americans not only to tax them 
without their consent but also to put them under arbitrary rule 
from England, and renewed the “grievances, which from their 
respect and love for this country, they had long borne, and seemed 
almost willing to forget. They reflected how lightly the interest of 
all America had been esteemed here, when the interests of a few 
inhabitants of Great Britain happened to have the smallest com- 
petition with it.” Americans could not import wine, oil, and fruit 
direct from Portugal, but must ship it by way of England in order 
that a few British merchants trading with Portugal might have 
their commissions. On the complaint of a few British merchants 
trading with Virginia nine colonies had been restrained from 
issuing paper money. A few British manufacturers of hats, nails, 
and steel had been able to prevent the manufacture of those articles 
in America. “Reflecting on these things, the Americans said to 
one another (their newspapers are full of discourses) these people 
are not content with making a monopoly of us . . - but now they 
have as good as declared they have a right to tax us, ad libitum, 
internally and externally; and that our constitutions and liberties 

376 Benjamin Franklin London 

shall all be taken away if we do not submit to that claim.” 'It is 
time then,” Franklin said the Americans were saying, “to take care 
of ourselves, by the best means in our power. Let us unite in 
solemn resolutions and engagements with and to each other, that 
we will give these new officers as little trouble as possible by not 
consuming the British manufactures, on which they are to levy 
the duties. Let us agree to consume no more of their expensive 
gew-gaws; let us live frugally; and let us industriously manufacture 
what we can for ourselves.” 

The Americans were loyal, Franklin insisted. “Scotland has had 
its rebellions, and England its plots, against the present royal 
family; but America is untainted with those crimes; there is in it 
scarce a man, there is not a single native of our country who is 
not firmly attached to his King by principle and by affection. But 
a new kind of loyalty seems to be required of us, a loyalty to 
Parliament; a loyalty that is to extend, it seems, to a surrender of 
all our properties, whenever a House of Commons, in which there 
is not a single member of our choosing, shall think fit to grant them 
away without our consent, and to a patient suffering the loss of our 
privileges as Englishmen, if we cannot submit to make such sur- 
render. We were separated too far from Britain by the ocean, but 
we were united strongly to it by respect and love, so that we could 
at any time freely have spent our lives and little fortunes in its 
cause. But this unhappy new system of politics tends to dissolve 
those bands of union and to sever us for ever. Woe to the man that 
first adopted it! Both countries will long have cause to execrate 
his memory.” (The editor of the Chronicle omitted these last two 

The Causes, even as edited by the Chronicle and widely re- 
printed, satisfied neither the Americans, who thought it pro- 
British, nor the British, who thought it pro-American. Franklin 
had written partly as an unofficial ambassador bent on reconciling 
the two countries, and partly as a philosopher who trusted reason. 
In his own mind he was more radical. The trouble over the Stamp 
Act had forced him to examine his opinions as to the relation 
between Britain and America. He had concluded that, by estab- 
lished custom and natural right if not by written law, the authority 
over the colonies was vested in the Crown, not in Parliament The 

CHAPTER 15 Theories of Sovereignty S77 

people of America and Britain were equally subjects of the king, 
but the Americans were not subject to the British. “Great Britain 
is not a sovereign,” he wrote in the margin of a pamphlet he was 
studying. “The Parliament has power only within the realm.”^^ 
Again: “The sovereignty of the Crown I understand. The sover- 
eignty of the British legislature out of Britain I do not under- 
stand.”^^ And again: “The British state is only the island of Great 
Britain. The British legislature are undoubtedly the only proper 
judges of what concerns the welfare of that state; but the Irish 
legislature are the proper judges of what concerns the Irish state, 
and the American legislatures of what concerns the American 
states respectively. ”-2® Look at history: “While an Englishman 
resides in England he is undoubtedly subject to its laws. If he goes 
into a foreign country he is subject to the laws and government 
he finds there. If he finds no government or laws there, he is subject 
there to none till he and his companions, if he has any, make laws 
for themselves. And this was the case of the first settlers in America. 
Otherwise and if they carried the English laws and power of 
Parliament with them, what advantages could the Puritans pro- 
pose to themselves by going, since they would have been as subject 
to bishops, spiritual courts, tithes, and statutes relating to the 
church in America as in England? Can the dean [of Gloucester] or 
his principles tell how it happens that those laws, the game acts, 
the statutes for labourers, and an infinity of others made before 
and since the emigration, are not in force in America nor ever 
were?”^® The Americans had the same right to their assemblies as 
the British to their Parliament, and the assemblies were not in- 
ferior to the Parliament but equal to it. Parliament had no more 
right to lay American taxes than the assemblies would have to lay 
British taxes. 

Holding these opinions, Franklin could not long persist in his 
distinction between taxes as external and internal. In April 1767, 
before the Townshend acts were brought in, he had written to 
Lord Karnes that “it seems necessary for the common good of the 
Empire that a power be lodged somewhere to regulate its general 
commerce; this can be placed nowhere so properly as in the Parlia- 
ment of Great Britain.”^’^ But the Townshend acts, pretending to 
regulate commerce, had been as plainly designed to raise revenue 

378 Benjamin Franklin London 

as the Stamp Act had. By 13 March 1768 Franklin had privately 
gone further than the Americans — particularly John Dickinson 
and Samuel Adams — ^who were still admitting the right of Parlia* 
ment to lay external taxes but protesting against specific measures. 
‘‘The more I have thought and read on the subject/’ he wrote to 
his son that day, “the more I find myself confirmed in opinion that 
no middle doctrine can be well maintained; I mean, not clearly 
with intelligible arguments. Something might be made of either 
of the extremes: that Parliament has the right to make all laws for 
us, or that it has the power to make no laws for us; and I think 
the arguments for the latter more numerous and weighty than 
those for the former. Supposing that doctrine established, the 
colonies would then be so many separate states, only subject to 
the same king, as England and Scotland were before the union. 
And then the question would be, whether a union like that with 
Scotland would or would not be advantageous to the whole.” 
Franklin had no doubt it would be, but he thoroughly doubted 
that it would ever be brought about. “As to my own sentiments, I 
am weary of suggesting them to so many different inattentive 
heads, though I must continue to do it while I stay among them.”^® 
Again he wanted to go home, but again he stayed on about his 
various businesses. The divided ministry did not quite know what 
to do with him: whether to dismiss him from the American post 
office, and so get rid of him; or to promote him to some British 
post and so make use of him or, possibly, bridle his arguments. 
The ministry moved softly in the spring of 1768, after Shelburne 
had been succeeded by Hillsborough. Franklin’s friend Grey 
Cooper, a secretary of the treasury, sent word that the Duke of 
Grafton, first minister, had heard from the Earl of Sandwich, 
postmaster-general, that Franklin’s office suffered from his absence 
in England, and that, it seemed to Sandwich, Franklin ought either 
to return to America or else resign. Grafton “wished him (Mr. 
Cooper) to mention this to me, and to say to me at the same time 
that though my going to my post might remove the objection, yet 
if I choose rather to remain in England my merit was such, in his 
opinion, as to entitle me to something better here, and it should 
not be his fault if I was not well provided for.” Franklin knew 
well enough that Sandwich’s objection was less to the deputy’s 

CHAPTER 15 A Better Poit S19 

absence from America than to his devotion to it. But Franklin 
was a schooled office-holder, and he duly left his card on the duke, 
as Cooper asked him to. “When I went next to the treasury, his 
Grace not being there, Mr. Cooper carried me to Lord North, 
chancellor of the exchequer, who said very obligingly, after talking 
of some American affairs: 1 am told by Mr. Cooper that you are 
not unwilling to stay with us. I hope we shall find some way of 
making it worth your while.’ I thanked his lordship and said I 
should stay with pleasure if I could any ways be useful to govern- 
ment. He made me a compliment and I took my leave, Mr. Cooper 
carrying me away with him to his country house at Richmond to 
dine and stay all night.” 

The following Thursday Franklin dined at the King’s Arms 
with “the gentlemen of the post office,” and talked with Anthony 
Todd, the secretary. Todd told him that Sandwich had asked why 
there should be two deputies for America. But when Franklin 
said that he was going home, “which I still say to everybody, not 
knowing but that what is intimated above may fail of taking 
effect, he looked blank and seemed disconcerted a little, which 
makes me think some friend of his was to have been vested in the 
office; but this is surmise only.” Franklin was not likely to have 
been wrong in his guess as to the meaning of Todd’s look. The 
postal authorities probably expected that Franklin would resign 
in the prospect of a better office, and had already thought of his 

Nothing came of the better office. Though Grafton, pleased by 
Franklin’s paper on smuggling, might have wanted to see Franklin 
an under-secretary for American affairs, continuing Shelburne’s 
plans, Franklin had too many enemies and his promotion was put 
off and gradually dropped. “That day I received another letter 
from Mr. Cooper, directing me to be at the Duke of Grafton’s 
next morning, whose porter had orders to let me in. I went accord- 
ingly, and was immediately admitted. But his Grace, being then 
engaged in some unexpected business, with much condescension 
and politeness made that apology for his not discoursing with me 
then, but wished me to be at the treasury at twelve the next Tues- 
day, I went accordingly, when Mr. Cooper told me something had 
called the duke into the country,” If the negotiations dragged out 

S 80 Benjamin Franklin London 

further, nothing definite is known of them, Franklin, writing to 
his son on 2 July, when the matter had not ended, was half indiffer- 
ent. “Though I did not think fit to decline any favour so great 
a man expressed an inclination to do me, because at court if one 
shows an unwillingness to be obliged it is often construed as a 
mark of mental hostility and one makes an enemy; yet so great is 
my inclination to be at home, and at rest, that I shall not be sorry 
if this business falls through and I am suffered to retire to my old 
post; nor indeed very sorry if they take that from me too on account 
of my zeal for America, in which some of my friends have hinted 
that I have been too open. ... If Mr. Grenville comes into power 
again, in any department respecting America, I must refuse to 
accept of anything that may seem to put me in his power, because I 
apprehend a breach between the two countries. ... I am now 
myself grown so old as to feel much less than formerly the spur of 
ambition, and if it were not for the flattering expectation that by 
being fixed here I might more effectually serve my country, I 
should certainly determine for retirement, without a moment's 


For four eventful years Franklin uneventfully if incessantly 
served his country in England as agent and peacemaker. His con- 
ception of America did not change. It was by right an independent 
state — or set of states — ^which was entitled to make its own laws 
and to choose how far it should belong to the union of the British 
Empire under the sovereignty of the Crown. He knew he was al- 
most alone in this conception, and he could not hope that it would 
soon, or ever, be generally accepted in Great Britain. But he could 
keep his eyes on the course of Parliament and use all the influence 
he could bring upon the ministers to prevent legislation which, by 
depriving the Americans of their rights or outraging their senti- 
ments, would widen and hasten the breach which he feared. 

He came to be less troubled by the American excesses than he 
had been during the Stamp Act agitation. News reached London 
that the people in Boston were lawlessly resisting the customs 

CHAPTER 15 Excesses in England 3S1 

officials there, and that troops had been called for. But London was 
rioting too, over John Wilkes whom the king was determined to 
keep out of Parliament. “Even this capital,” Franklin wrote to 
John Ross on 14 May 1768, “the residence of the king, is now a 
daily scene of lawless riot and confusion. Mobs patrolling the 
streets at noonday, some knocking all down that will not roar for 
Wilkes and liberty; courts of justice afraid to give judgment against 
him; coal-heavers and porters pulling down the houses of coal 
merchants that refuse to give them more wages; sawyers destroying 
sawmills; sailors unrigging all the outward-bound ships and suf- 
fering none to sail till merchants agree to raise their pay; watermen 
destroying private boats and threatening bridges; soldiers firing 
among the mobs and killing men, women, and children; which 
seems only to have produced a universal sullenness that looks like 
a great black cloud coming on, ready to burst in a general tempest. 
What the event will be God only knows. But some punishment 
seems preparing for a people who are ungratefully abusing the best 
constitution and the best king any nation was ever blessed with, 
intent on nothing but luxury, licentiousness, power, places, pern 
sions, and plunder.”^^ 

Franklin still cherished his idea that the king was just and mag- 
nanimous, and he knew that most enlightened Englishmen thought 
about the Americans much as Franklin did. But the enlightened 
Englishmen were not in power. After Chatham resigned from his 
nominal office in 1768 the ministry became more and more con- 
servative. Hillsborough, charged with American affairs, was as 
bungling as Braddock and as hard for Franklin to work with. In 
February 1768 the Massachusetts Assembly sent a circular letter to 
the other American assemblies suggesting concerted opposition to 
the Townshend acts in the form of petitions to the British govern- 
ment. Hillsborough demanded that the Massachusetts Assembly 
rescind its action or be dissolved, and he directed the governors 
of the other colonies to dissolve their assemblies if they responded 
favourably to the Massachusetts appeal. The Massachusetts Assem- 
bly refused. Other assemblies sided with them. Parliament in the 
winter of 1768-69 went to such angry lengths as to propose — 
merely — that the Americans most active in resistance be brought 
to England and tried for treason under a disused statute of Henry 

3 8£ Benjamin Franklin London 

VIIL This brought outbursts of something very near rebellion 
throughout America, and the spread of non-importation agree- 
ments like those which had caused the repeal of the Stamp Act. 
Virginia took its place beside Massachusetts. Washington, almost 
new to politics, introduced into the House of Burgesses the Vir- 
ginia Resolves of 1769, drawn up by George Mason and signed not 
only by Washington but also by Thomas Jefferson, now twenty-six, 
who had just taken his seat in the legislature. 

Perhaps some large, liberal wisdom might still have restored 
unity and peace, but nothing of the kind appeared to dominate 
the bitter controversy. More than ever the king was determined to 
be the king, the ministry to persist in a policy supported by the 
Declaratory Act, Parliament to uphold its claim to be the supreme 
legislative authority of the Empire, whatever the colonial assem- 
blies might pretend. The manufacturers who had protested against 
the Stamp Act had been alienated by the threat of American manu- 
factures, and the merchants by the desire of the Americans to take 
over a part of the American trade. The British public, once for all 
convinced that the Americans were only trying to get out of pay- 
ing their share of governmental expenses, were irritated by Amer- 
ican talk about liberty and infuriated by American abuse of 
Britain. In America there was another complex of interests and 
animosities. The colonies were far from being united in a compact 
opposition. The majority of Americans still thought of themselves 
as loyal to the Crown and were unable to imagine themselves as 
outside the Empire. By no means all of them felt certain that their 
own officials, who also could be incompetent and corrupt, would 
govern better than the British. The regulation of their trade had 
been so long practised that it was more or less accepted, and this 
did not seem necessarily the time for demanding that it end. As to 
economic exploitation, the Americans were not so much objecting 
to it on principle as wanting to have their commercial system cen- 
tred more profitably in America, where if exploiting was to be 
done it could be done by Americans. And between the countries 
there was perpetual, lagging misinformation across the ocean over 
which nothing travelled more rapidly and steadily than mutual 

The ministers who in October 1768 had sent eight ships of war 

CHAPTER 15 The Duty on Tea S83 

and two battalions (later reinforced) to quiet Boston and compel 
it to pay its customs duties were not altogether unreasonable. 
When they saw that the extraordinary military expenses of the 
first year were at least five thousand times the amount which the 
Townshend acts produced in revenue from the whole of America, 
they perceived that the acts were not worth the trouble they had 
caused. Hillsborough in 1769 informed the colonial governors that 
no further taxes would be laid for revenue, and the unpopular 
governor of Massachusetts, Francis Bernard, was recalled — ^with a 
baronetcy. On the question of repeal the ministry was still divided. 
North, who wanted to repeal all the duties, cast the deciding vote 
to retain the duty on tea, out of deference to the relentless wishes 
of the king. The right to tax must be kept up. When North 
brought the bill before Parliament on 5 March 1770, even Gren- 
villc was opposed to the pinchbeck compromise, and only the 
king’s friends, bribed and true, made the passage of it possible. 
That very day in Boston a squad of British soldiers, hectored by a 
crowd, fired into it and killed four men. The Boston Massacre, as 
the episode was called in America, raised a colonial tumult. But 
the event of the day was the act passed in London. The conflict 
between Britain and America had been narrowed to a single point, 
trifling in itself but showing how ominous the conflict was if this 
pedantry of legislation could put and hold the countries so far 

Franklin, watching Parliament, thought it * Vas bad policy when 
they attempted to heal our differences by repealing part of the 
duties only; as it is bad surgery to leave splinters in a wound which 
must prevent its healing or in time occasion it to open afresh.”®^ 
In December he heard that he had been appointed agent for the 
Assembly of Massachusetts. On 17 January he presented himself 
in his new capacity to Hillsborough, whose character, in Franklin’s 
opinion, was made of ''conceit, wrong-headedness, obstinacy, and 
passion,” and who "perplexed and embarrassed” American affairs 
by his "perverse and senseless management.” Franklin’s journal 
gives a more lifelike account than any other of what the philos- 
opher must have had to endure day after day from lords in office. 

"I went this morning to wait on Lord Hillsborough. The porter 
at first denied his lordship, on which I left my name and drove off. 

3 84 Benjamin Franklin London 

But before the coach got out of the square the coachman heard a 
call, turned, and went back to the door, when the porter came and 
said: 'His lordship will see you, sir/ I was shown into the levee 
room, where I found Governor Bernard [recalled from Massa- 
chusetts], who, I understand, attends there constantly. Several 
other gentlemen were there attending, with whom I sat down a 
few minutes, when Secretary Pownall [John Pownall of the Board 
of Trade] came out to us and said his lordship desired I would 
come in. 

"I was pleased with this ready admission and preference, having 
sometimes waited three or four hours for my turn; and, being 
pleased, I could more easily put on the open, cheerful countenance 
that my friends advised me to wear. His lordship came towards me 
and said: 1 was dressing in order to go to court; but, hearing that 
you were at the door, who are a man of business, I determined to 
see you immediately/ I thanked his lordship and said that at 
present my business was not much; it was only to pay my respects 
to his lordship and to acquaint him with my appointment by the 
House of Representatives of Massachusetts Bay to be their agent 
here, in which station if I could be of any service — I was going on 
to say, to the public, I should be very happy; but this lordship, 
whose countenance changed at my naming that province, cut me 
short by saying, with something between a smile and a sneer: 

'X. I must set you right there, Mr. Franklin. You are not 

*B, F, Why, my lord? 

'X. H, You are not appointed. 

"J5. F, I do not understand your lordship. I have the appoint- 
ment in my pocket. 

'X. H. You are mistaken; I have later and better advices. I have 
a letter from Governor Hutchinson; he would not give his assent 
to the bill. 

"J5. F. There was no bill, my lord; it was a vote of the House. 

'X. H. There was a bill presented to the governor for the pur- 
pose of appointing you and another, one Dr. Lee [Arthur Lee], I 
think he is called, to which the governor refused his assent. 

"JS. F. I cannot understand this, my lord; I think there must 

CHAPTER 15 A Bungling Lord 3S5 

be some mistake in it. Is your lordship quite sure that you have 
such a letter? 

'X. H. I will convince you of it directly. {Rings the belL) Mr. 
Pownall will come in and satisfy you. 

F, It is not necessary that I should now detain your lordship 
from dressing. You are going to court. I will wait on your lordship 
another time. 

“L. H. No, stay; he will come immediately. (To the servant,) 
Tell Mr. Pownall I want him, (Mr. Pownall comes in.) Have you 
not at hand Governor Hutchinson’s letter, mentioning his refusing 
his assent to the bill for appointing Dr. Franklin agent? 

''Sec. P, My lord? 

"L. H. Is there not such a letter? 

"Sec. P. No, my lord. There is a letter relating to some bill for 
the payment of a salary to Mr. De Berdt [the former agent], and I 
think to some other agent, to which the governor had refused his 

"L. H. And there is nothing in the letter to the purpose I 

"Sec. P. No, my lord. 

"B. F. I thought it could not well be, my lord; as my letters are 
by the last ships, and they mention no such thing. Here is the 
authentic copy of the vote of the House appointing me, in which 
there is no mention of any act intended. Will your lordship please 
to look at it? (With seeming unwillingness he takes ity but does not 
look into it.) 

"L. H. An information of this kind is not properly brought to 
me as secretary of state. The Board of Trade is the proper place. 

"B. F. I will leave the paper then with Mr. Pownall to be 

"L. H. (Hastily) To what end would you leave it with him? 

"B. F. To be entered on the minutes of that board, as usual. 

"L. H. (Angrily) It shall not be entered there. No such paper 
shall be entered there while I have anything to do with the business 
of that board. The House of Representatives has no right to ap- 
point an agent. We shall take no notice of any agents but such as 
are appointed by acts of Assembly to which the governor gives his 
assent. We have had confusion enough already. Here is one agent 

586 Benjamin Franklin London 

appointed by the Council, another by the House of Representa- 
tives. Which of these is agent for the province? Who are we to 
hear in provincial affairs? An agent appointed by act of Assembly 
we can understand. No other will be attended to for the future, I 
can assure you. 

F, I cannot conceive, my lord, why the consent of the gov- 
ernor should be thought necessary to the appointment of an agent 
for the people. It seems to me that 

'X. H, (With a mixed look of anger and contempt) I shall not 
enter into a dispute with you, sir, upon this subject. 

‘X. F, I beg your lordship’s pardon; I do not presume to dispute 
with your lordship; I would only say that it seems to me that every 
body of men who cannot appear in person where business relating 
to them may be transacted should have a right to appear by an 
agent. The concurrence of the governor does not seem to me neces- 
sary. It is the business of the people that is to be done; he is not 
one of them; he is himself an agent. 

‘X. H. (Hastily) Whose agent is he? 

“J3. F. The king’s, my lord. 

*X. H. No such matter. He is one of the corporation by the 
province charter. No agent can be appointed but by an act, nor 
any act pass without his assent. Besides, this proceeding is directly 
contrary to express instructions. 

"X. F, I did not know there had been such instructions. I am not 
concerned in any offence against them, and 

‘X. H, Yes, your offering such a paper to be entered is an offence 
against them. {Folding it up again without having read a word 
of it) No such appointment shall be entered. When I came into 
the administration of American affairs I found them in great dis- 
order. By my firmness they are now something mended; and while 
I have the honour to hold the seals I shall continue the same con- 
duct, the same firmness. I think my duty to the master I serve, and 
to the government of this nation, requires it of me. If that conduct 
is not approved, they may take my office from me when they please. 
I shall make them a bow and thank them; I shall resign with pleas- 
ure. That gentleman knows it (pointing to Mr, Pownall), but 
while I continue in it I shall resolutely persevere in the same firm- 
ness. (Spoken with great warmth^ and turning pale in his discourse^ 

CHAPTER 15 Franklin's Foreca§i SS7 

as if he was angry at something or somebody besides the agents and 
of more consequence to himself) 

“B. F, {Reaching out his hand for the paper ^ which his lordship 
returned to him) I beg your lordship’s pardon for taking up so 
much of your time. It is, I believe, of no great importance whether 
the appointment is acknowledged or not, for I have not the least 
conception that an agent can at present be of any use to any of the 
colonies. I shall therefore give your lordship no further trouble. 

Angry as he was, Hillsborough had ears. *1 have since heard,” 
Franklin wrote to Samuel Cooper on 5 February, '‘that his lord- 
ship took great oflEence at some of my last words, which he calls 
extremely rude and abusive. He assured a friend of mine that they 
were equivalent to telling him to his face that the colonies could 
expect neither favour nor justice during his administration. I find 
he did not mistake me.”^^ 

As agent for Massachusetts Franklin was strongly on the Amer- 
ican side in that colony. In Pennsylvania, even when he was leading 
the Assembly, he had now and then intervened between legisla- 
ture and governor; but his chief correspondents in Boston, Thomas 
Cushing and the Rev. Samuel Cooper, were always anti-British, 
and Franklin with them. In a letter to the Committee of Cor- 
respondence (Cushing, James Otis, and Samuel Adams) written 
15 May 1771 Franklin forecast the steps of oppression and revolu- 
tion which he thought could hardly be avoided. 

“I think one may clearly see, in the system of customs to be 
exacted in America by act of Parliament, the seeds sown of a total 
disunion of the two countries, though as yet that event may be at a 
considerable distance. The course and natural progress seems to 
be, first, the appointment of needy men as officers, for others do 
not care to leave England; then, their necessities make them 
rapacious, their office makes them proud and insolent, their inso- 
lence and rapacity make them odious, and, being conscious that 
they are hated, they become malicious; their malice urges them to 
a continual abuse of the inhabitants in their letters to adminis- 
tration, representing them as disaffected and rebellious, and (to 
encourage the use of severity) as weak, divided, timid, and cow- 
ardly. Government believes all; thinks it necessarv to support and 

SSS Benjamin Franklin London 

countenance its oflScers; their quarrelling with the people is 
deemed a mark and consequence of their fidelity; they are there- 
fore more highly rewarded, and this makes their conduct still more 
insolent and provoking. 

'‘The resentment of the people will, at times and on particular 
incidents, burst into outrages and violence upon such officers, and 
this naturally draws down severity and acts of further oppression 
from hence. The more the people are dissatisfied the more rigour 
will be thought necessary; severe punishments will be inflicted to 
terrify; rights and privileges will be abolished; greater force will 
then be required to secure execution and submission; the expense 
will become enormous; it will then be thought proper, by fresh 
exactions, to make the people defray it; thence the British nation 
and government will become odious, and subjection to it will be 
deemed no longer tolerable; war ensues, and the bloody struggle 
will end in absolute slavery to America or ruin to Britain by the 
loss of her colonies: the latter most probable, from America’s 
growing strength and magnitude. . . . 

“I do not pretend to the gift of prophecy. History shows that by 
these steps great empires have crumbled heretofore; and the late 
transactions we have so much cause to complain of show that we 
are in the same train, and that without a greater share of prudence 
and wisdom than we have seen both sides to be possessed of we 
shall probably come to the same conclusion. 

The disruption of the Empire still seemed to Franklin a catas- 
trophe, to be postponed as long as possible. Patience and discre- 
tion might find some wise settlement of the conflict. Suppose 
Britain should give up all but the fewest duties, as "a regulation 
of trade for the general advantage,” and America should enforce 
and collect them by laws of their own and their own officers. 
Britain would keep its right to lay duties and America its right to 
make its own laws. "This would alone destroy those seeds of dis- 
union, and both countries might thence continue much longer to 
grow great together, more secure by their united strength and 
more formidable to their common enemies.” But Franklin thought 
the scheme would break down before the fondness of the British 
government for appointing "friends and dependants to profitable 
offices.” This was the form which exploitation took among poli- 

CHAPTER 15 Hillsborough in Ireland 389 

ticians. What else was Hillsborough’s demand that the colonial 
agents be approved by the colonial governors — that is, be creatures 
of the administration? 

The antagonism between Franklin and Hillsborough continued. 
About the middle of October, nine months after their sharp inter- 
view, Franklin was in Ireland, where he had gone with Richard 
Jackson. Hillsborough, whose title was in the Irish peerage, was 
then at Dublin. The two met at dinner at the lord lieutenant’s. 
“He was extremely civil,” Franklin wrote to his son on 30 January 
1772, “wonderfully so to me whom he had not long before abused 
to Mr. Strahan as a factious, turbulent fellow, always in mischief, 
a republican, enemy to the king’s service, and what not.”^*^ Nothing 
would do but Franklin must call at Hillsborough’s house on his 
journey northward to Belfast. Franklin was unwilling to go, but 
he was also unwilling to seem as rude as he would have to if he 
did not stop, since his road led past Hillsborough’s door. He did 
stop, and was “detained by a thousand civilities from Tuesday to 
Sunday.” Hillsborough was “attentive in everything that might 
make my stay in his house agreeable, and put his eldest son Lord 
Kilwarling into his phaeton with me, to drive me a round of forty 
miles that I might see the country, the seats, manufactures, etc., 
covering me with his own greatcoat lest I should take cold.”^® 

Hillsborough, talking to Franklin, blamed England for its policy 
of restraining manufactures in Ireland. When Franklin pointed 
out that this was England’s policy towards America, Hillsborough 
insisted that he thought it ought not to be. He was the friend of 
American manufactures, he said, and had done nothing to remind 
Parliament of their growth. He hoped to see wine and silk pro- 
duced in America. He asked for advice in forming a government 
for Newfoundland. Franklin was not impressed by what he be- 
lieved was Hillsborough’s effort to recommend himself through 
franklin to the colonies. “All which I could not but wonder at,” 
the agent reported to Thomas Cushing on 13 January 1772, “know- 
ing that he likes neither them nor me; and I thought it inexpli- 
cable but on the supposition that he apprehended an approaching 
storm and was desirous of lessening beforehand the number of 
enemies he had so imprudently created. But if he takes no steps 
towards withdrawing the troops, repealing the duties, restoring 

390 Benjamin Franklin London 

the castle [in Boston harbour], or recalling the offensive instruc- 
tions, I shall think all the plausible behaviour I have described is 
meant only, by patting and stroking the horse, to make him more 
patient while the reins are drawn tighter and the spurs set deeper 
into his sides,”^® 

“As Lord Hillsborough in fact got nothing out of me/* Franklin 
wrote to his son on 19 August, “I should rather suppose he threw 
me away as an orange that would yield no juice and therefore not 
worth more squeezing. When I had been a little while returned to 
London I waited on him to thank him for his civilities in Ireland, 
and to discourse with him on a Georgia affair. The porter told me 
he was not at home. I left my card, went another time, and received 
the same answer, though I knew he was at home, a friend of mine 
being with him. After intermissions of a week each, I made two 
more visits and received the same answer. The last time was on a 
levee day, when a number of carriages were at his door. My coach 
man, driving up, alighted and was opening the coach door when 
the porter, seeing me, came out and surlily chid the coachman for 
opening the door before he had inquired whether my lord was at 
home; and then, turning to me, said: 'My lord is not at home.* I 
have never since been nigh him, and we have only abused one 
another at a distance.**^^ 

Franklin’s journey in the latter part of 1771 was the longest he 
ever made in the British Isles, and the most important. Though he 
went chiefly for his health, he was not allowed to forget that he 
was a public figure. In Dublin he attended two sessions of the 
Irish Parliament. Jackson, a member of the Parliament in England, 
was admitted by courtesy to the floor, and Franklin expected to go 
to the gallery. But “the Speaker stood up and acquainted the 
House that he understood there was in town an American gentle- 
man ol (as he was pleased to say) distinguished character and merit, 
a member or delegate of some of the Parliaments of that country, 
who was desirous of being present at the debates of this House; 
that there was a rule of the House for admitting members of 
English Parliaments and that he did suppose the House would 
consider the American assemblies as English Parliaments; but, as 
this was the first instance, he had chosen not to give any order in it 
without first receiving their directions. On the question the whole 

CHAPTER 15 Ireland and America S9l 

House gave a loud unanimous aye; when two members came to me 
without the bar, where I was standing, led me in, and placed me 
very honourably/’®^ Franklin hoped that the American assemblies 
would be as courteous to any visiting member of the Irish Parlia- 
ment. He could not help feeling the difference between the Irish 
and the English in this respect. 

Though Franklin talked with members of both parties in Ire- 
land, the courtiers and the patriots, his sympathies were with the 
patriots, who were all friends of America. He said everything he 
could to confirm them in this friendship, for the Americans looked 
to Ireland for support in their conflict with the English Parlia- 
ment. The Irish were watching America. They too had long en- 
dured the repressive regulation of their trade by England. They 
too claimed the right to make their own laws and lay their own 
taxes. If the Americans held out, Ireland would be encouraged and 
benefited. If the Americans lost, Ireland would lose with them. 
For Franklin the poverty and misery of the Irish people were an 
example of what might come to America if the old colonial system 
of exploitation were kept up. America must defend itself from 
such a future. America and Ireland had a common cause against 
England. Franklin later suggested to American correspondents 
that the colonies should not refuse trade with Ireland, as with 
England, but should import Irish linen as before and furnish 
Ireland with flaxseed. 

He stayed a longer time in Ireland than he had meant his whole 
journey to last, when he left London after the middle of August. 
It was two months before he got to Edinburgh. ‘'Through storms 
and floods I arrived here on Saturday night, late, and was lodged 
miserably in an inn,’’ he wrote to Strahan on 27 October. “But 
that excellent Christian David Hume, agreeable to the precepts of 
the Gospel, has received the stranger, and I now live with him at 
his house in the new town most happily.”®^ He thought he would 
be there no more than two weeks, but again he prolonged his stay, 
among the congenial Scots. “In Scotland I spent five days with 
Lord Karnes at his seat . . . two or three days at Glasgow, two 
days at Carron Iron Works, and the rest of the month in and about 
Edinburgh, lodging at David Hume’s, who entertained me with 
the greatest kindness and hospitality, as did Lord Karnes and hit 

S92 Benjamin Franklin London 

lady/'^® On 25 November he was at Preston in Lancashire, visiting 
the mother and sister o£ Richard Bache. Franklin’s son-in-law had 
come to England, and the two men, who first met at Preston, 
travelled together to London, which they reached about the end 
of the month. 

Bache had thought that Franklin might help him to a political 
post, and had brought a thousand pounds in case he should have 
to pay for an appointment, in the manner of the time. Franklin 
advised him to put his money into goods and open a store in 
Philadelphia, in the north room of the Franklin house where the 
Baches lived. '1 am of opinion,” Franklin wrote to his daughter 
on 29 January, '‘that almost any profession a man has been edu- 
cated in is preferable to an office held at pleasure, as rendering 
him more independent, more a freeman, and less subject to the 
caprices of superiors. And I think that in keeping a store, if it be 
where you dwell, you can be serviceable to him as your mother 
was to me; for you are not deficient in capacity, and I hope are 
not too proud. ... For your encouragement I can assure you 
that there is scarce a merchant of opulence in your town whom I 
do not remember a young beginner with as little to go on and no 
better prospects than Mr. Bache. That his voyage hither might not 
be quite fruitless I have given him £200 sterling, with which I 
wish you good luck.”^^ 

The journey had been pleasant and had greatly improved Frank- 
lin’s health and spirits. But its chief effect upon him had been to 
strengthen his belief that the Americans had a better way of life 
than the British and must insist on maintaining it. “I have lately 
made a tour through Ireland and Scotland,” he wrote to Joshua 
Babcock in Rhode Island on 13 January, “In those countries a 
small part of society are landlords, great noblemen, and gentlemen, 
extremely opulent, living in the highest affluence and magnifi- 
cence; the bulk of the people tenants, living in the most sordid 
wretchedness in dirty hovels of mud and straw and clothed only 
in rags. 

“I thought often of the happiness of New England, where every 
man is a freeholder, has a vote in public affairs, lives in a tidy, 
warm house, has plenty of good food and fuel, with whole clothes 
from head to foot, the manufacture perhaps of his own family- 

CHAPTER 15 Civilization and Slavery 39S 

Long may they continue in this situation! But if they should ever 
envy the trade of these countries I can put them in a way to obtain 
a share of it. Let them with three-fourths of the people of Ireland 
live the year round on potatoes and buttermilk, without shirts; 
then may their merchants export beef, butter, and linen. Let them, 
with the generality of the common people of Scotland, go bare- 
foot; then they may make large exports in shoes and stockings. 
And if they will be content to wear rags, like the spinners and 
weavers of England, they may make cloths and stuffs for all parts 
of the world. 

“Farther, if my countrymen should ever wish for the honour of 
having among them a gentry enormously wealthy, let them sell 
their farms and pay racked rents; the scale of the landlords will 
rise as that of the tenants is depressed, who will soon become poor, 
tattered, dirty, and abject in spirit. Had I never been in the Ameri- 
can colonies, but was to form my judgment of civil society by what 
I have lately seen, I should never advise a nation of savages to admit 
of civilization; for I assure you that in the possession and enjoy- 
ment of the various comforts of life, compared to these people 
every Indian is a gentleman; and the effect of this kind of civil 
society seems only to be the depressing multitudes below the sav- 
age state that a few may be raised above it.”*^^ 

(Franklin knew that Americans, talking about liberty and well- 
being, left their slaves out of account, and that the slaves furnished 
the English an effective counter-charge. In A Conversation between 
an Englishman^ a Scotchman^ and an American^ on the Subject of 
Slavery y published in January 1770 but only recently identified 
as his,^® he had said what he could say about the evil. “In truth 
there is not, take North America through, perhaps one family in a 
hundred that has a slave in it. Many thousands abhor the slave 
trade . . . conscientiously avoid being concerned with it, and do 
everything in their power to abolish it.’' British traders “bring the 
slaves to us and tempt us to purchase them. I do not justify our fall- 
ing into temptation.” The receiver of stolen goods was as bad as 
the thief. But should not the forgotten reverse of the maxim be 
remembered: that the thief was as bad as the receiver? With 
further casuistry Franklin argued that the Scottish colliers, and 
even British soldiers and sailors, were not much better off than 

S 94 Benjamin Franklin London 

ALHierican slaves. Slavery itself he did not defend. All slavery was 
bad. No country which had any kind of slavery in it had a right to 
accuse any other country of having any other kind of slavery.) 


When Franklin set out on his long tour through Ireland and 
Scotland he had reason to expect that the matter of the western 
colony would soon be favourably settled. The scheme had changed 
and grown since 1767, and in 1771 intricately involved British 
policy and British officials. In November 1768 the Crown, repre- 
sented by Sir William Johnson, made a treaty with the Six Nations 
at Fort Stanwix, to fix the boundary between the English and the 
Indians. Through the engineering, apparently, of the Philadelphia 
members of the Illinois company, the Indians were persuaded to 
cede land in what is now West Virginia to compensate various 
Indian traders, including Baynton, Wharton & Morgan, for dam- 
age done to them by the Delawares and Shawnee in the Pontiac 
uprising. Samuel Wharton went to London early in the next year 
to urge the company’s project. He was “exceedingly active and 
industrious in soliciting it,” Franklin wrote to John Foxcroft on 
4 February 1772, “and in drawing up memorials and papers to 
support the application, remove objections, etc. But though I have 
not been equally active (it not being thought proper that I should 
appear much in the solicitation since I became a little obnoxious 
to the ministry on account of my letters to America), yet I suppose 
my advice may have been thought of some use, since it has been 
asked on every step; and I believe that, being longer and better 
known here than Mr. Wharton, I may have lent some weight to 
his negotiations by joining in the affair, from the greater con- 
fidence men are apt to place in one they know than in a stranger.”^^ 

Wharton’s advantage as lobbyist was simply that he offered poli- 
ticians a chance to make a fortune in a promising speculation. The 
first petition, in June 1769, asked for a grant of 2,500,000 acres of 
the land ceded at Fort Stanwix. Hillsborough, who was presiden t of 
the Board of Trade as well as secretary of state for America, re- 
ferred the petitioners to the treasury, to find out if the Grown had 

CHAPTER 15 The Grand Ohio Company S95 

a right to sell land to private persons. But he advised them not to 
be so modest. Ask for 20,000,000 acres. In December the company 
was reorganized at a meeting held at the Crown tavern. Besides 
Franklin and Wharton fourteen men were present. Anthony Todd 
was there, secretary of the British post office, and John Foxcroft, 
joint-deputy for North America. More than half the men were 
English. Thomas Walpole, a London banker and nephew of the 
great Sir Robert, lent his influential name. (The Grand Ohio 
Company came to be usually known as the Walpole company or 
grant.) Thomas Pownall, formerly governor in turn of New Jersey, 
Massachusetts, and South Carolina, author of the valuable Admin- 
istration of the Colonies, and member of Parliament for Tregoney, 
gave the group an official cast. The new company was to be divided 
into seventy-two shares, held not only by the projectors but also by 
as many officials as could be interested in the enterprise. 

These then or later numbered among them Lord Camden, lord 
chancellor (who as Charles Pratt, attorney-general, had been 
friendly when Franklin came on his Pennsylvania mission a dozen 
years before); Lord Hertford (another nephew of Sir Robert Wal- 
pole), lord chamberlain, and close to the king; Earl Temple, 
brother to George Grenville who died in 1770 but had favoured 
the enterprise; Lord Gower, president of the Privy Council; Lord 
Rochford, secretary of state for the northern department. Only 
Camden among the noblemen had any respect or liking for the 
colonies, and some of them had political as well as financial motives 
for taking shares. Grey Cooper, a secretary of the treasury, joined 
them, with Richard Jackson, William Strahan and his son Andrew, 
and undersecretaries from several government departments. The 
names of the two Franklins, Sir William Johnson, and Croghan 
were on the list, and even more American Whartons than English 
Walpoles. Thomas Bradshaw, a henchman of the Duke of Grafton, 
furnished expert aid in rounding up desirable shareholders. 

The Grand Ohio Company petitioned for a grant of 20,000,000 
acres. They offered to pay £10,460 7s. 3d. (the exact amount which 
the treaty of Fort Stanwix had cost the Crown in presents and 
expenses) and a quit-rent of two shillings for every hundred acres 
of cultivable land after twenty years. The proposal came before the 
treasury on 4 January. The treasury agreed to the sale, provided 

S96 Benjamin Franklin London 

the company would support the civil establishment of the colony 
which was to be founded. Hillsborough later said he had advised 
the company to ask for such an immense tract in the belief that the 
treasury would either refuse or else demand more money than 
could be raised. Now the proposal came back to the Board of 
Trade and the American department, and his unwilling hands 
were full. 

Shelburne, whose ideas owed much to Franklin, had hoped to 
settle three colonies in the west, with local autonomy, and free- 
dom to develop — exploit — the country. Hillsborough’s ideas, so 
far as they are clear, were more cautious. As an administrator he 
was afraid of another Indian uprising against new colonies, and 
as a landlord with large estates in Ireland he was afraid he 
would lose tenants and labourers to America. Though he seemed 
at first to encourage Wharton’s project, Hillsborough probably 
felt with most of the members of the Board of Trade that remoter 
colonies were dangerous to British interests. It had been a settled 
policy, as he later said, to confine ''the western extent of settle- 
ment to such a distance from the sea coast as that those settlements 
should lie within the reach of the trade and commerce of this king- 
dom, upon which the strength and riches of it depend, and also of 
the exercise of that authority and jurisdiction which was conceived 
to be necessary for the preservation of the colonies in a due sub- 
ordination to, and dependence upon, the mother country.” It 
would be hard to regulate the trade of the western colonies, and 
hard to govern them. Population might be drawn off from the 
older colonies, and the value of their land and their production of 
raw materials diminished. It would be better to leave the country 
west of the Alleghenies wholly to the Indians and the fur trade, 
forbidding white emigration there until the eastern colonies were 
solidly populated. Hillsborough seemed not to understand, as 
Shelburne understood, that emigration was irresistible and had 
already more than begun. 

For a year or so Hillsborough did not show himself opposed to 
the Ohio company. In April 1771 Franklin thought the affair was 
near a conclusion. But Hillsborough delayed and objected. Vir- 
ginia under its charter claimed the territory in question, and 
Virginia officers and soldiers were asking for land for their services 




in the French and Indian war, Washington had titles for 32,375 
acres on the Ohio and the Great Kanawha. Wharton got the Vir 
ginians to merge their claims with those of the Walpole company 
Still Hillsborough delayed. New names for the colony w^ere thought 
of. At first it was to be called Indiana. Then Pittsylvania, as a 
compliment to Chatham. Finally Vandalia, because the queen was 
said to be descended from the royal line of the Vandals. Wharton 
enlisted Lord Rochford, dissolute and needy, and Lord Gower, 
head of the Bedford party. The Bedfords wanted to oust Lord 
North from the ministry and thought it might be done by defeat- 
ing Hillsborough, who was North's closest ally in the cabinet, 
Hillsborough still did not act. By roundabout avenues Wharton 
reached even George III. Strahan, David Hume's publisher, wrote 
to Hume in Edinburgh. Hume, who had formerly been secretary 
to Lord Hertford, wrote to the lord chamberlain.^^ Hertford pos- 
sibly talked to the king. The king asked a friend of Hillsborough 
when the Ohio petition would be ready for the Privy Council. 
Hillsborough dared not delay it any longer. On 25 March 1772 
the Board of Trade took the petition under consideration, and 
Hillsborough reported against it to the Council on 29 April. 

No nicety of sentiment troubled the members of the Council — 
Gower and Rochford — who had here to decide whether they ap- 
proved of selling Crown lands at a negligible price to themselves 
and their friends, for what might be enormous profits, Gower as 
president announced that the report was open to evidence against 
it. On 5 June, at a committee hearing at the Cockpit, Walpole, 
Franklin, Wharton, William Trent for the Pennsylvania traders, 
and James Mercer for the Virginia soldiers appeared. Wal- 
pole spoke, but the day was Wharton's. He had prepared and 
had had printed the Observations on and Answers to the Fore- 
going Report^^ long ascribed to Franklin. Wharton brilliantly 
observed and answered for several hours, and won the committee, 
who on 1 July advised the Privy Council against accepting Hills- 
borough's adverse judgment. Hillsborough furiously said that if 
the grant were made and the Vandalia colony undertaken by the 
government, he would resign rather than carry it out. This was 
what Gower wanted, not the expansion of America, Rochford 
was willing, if he might make a fortune. A majority in the Privy 

S 98 Benjamin Franklin London 

Council stood with them. It was not the '‘interest of the Ohio 
planters” that undid Hillsborough, Franklin wrote to his son on 
17 August, so much as the dislike of his "brother ministers.” "See- 
ing that he made a point of defeating our scheme, they made 
another of supporting it, on purpose to mortify him, which they 
knew his pride could not bear. . . . The king too was tired of 
him and his administration, which had weakened the affection and 
respect of the colonies for a royal government; of which (I may say 
it to you) I had used proper means from time to time that His 
Majesty should have due information and convincing proofs.”^'^ 
Hillsborough resigned on 1 August, and was made an English earl. 
North, in spite of the snub to one of his favoured colleagues, 
remained in power. 

Chagrined at having lost his place, Hillsborough put too much 
blame on Franklin, whom he said he would never forgive for writ- 
ing the company’s answer to his report. When Anthony Todd 
assured Hillsborough that Franklin had not written it, Hillsbor- 
ough was displeased with Todd, and insisted that Franklin was 
"one of the most mischievous men in England.” Yet the enemies 
met amicably enough at Oxford the next year. "Lord H.,” Frank- 
lin wrote to his son on 14 July 1773, “called upon Lord Le 
Despencer, whose chamber and mine were together in Queen’s 
College. I was in the inner room shifting, and heard his voice but 
did not see him, as he went downstairs immediately with Lord 
Le D.; who mentioning that I was above, he returned directly and 
came to me in the pleasantest manner imaginable. 'Dr. F.,’ says he, 
‘I did not know till this minute that you were here, and I am come 
back to make you my bow. I am glad to see you at Oxford, and 
that you look so well,’ etc. In return for this extravagance I com- 
plimented him on his son’s performance in the theatre, though 
indeed it was but indifferent; so that account was settled. For as 
people say, when they are angry: 'If he strikes me, Fll strike him 
again’; I sometimes think it may be right to say: 'If he flatters me, 
Fll flatter him again.’ This is lex talionis, returning offences in 
kind.” Of all the men he had ever met, Franklin thought, Hills- 
borough was "surely the most unequal in his treatment of people, 
the most insincere, and the most wrong-headed. Witness, besides 
his various behaviour to me, his duplicity in encouraging us to ask 

CHAPTER 15 Prospers of Profit S99 

for more land; 'Ask for enough to make a province’ (when we at 
first asked only for 2,500,000 acres) were his words, pretending to 
befriend our application, then doing everything to defeat it; and 
reconciling the first to the last by saying to a friend that he meant 
to defeat it from the beginning, . . . Thus, by the way, his mor- 
tification becomes double. He has served us by the very means he 
meant to destroy us, and tripped up his own heels into the 

Hillsborough was succeeded as colonial secretary by Lord Dart- 
mouth, looked upon as a frien